From Clouds to Calendars: Wilson Adopts Abstraction

How much experience can be embodied in a rectangular patch of color? If we’re to believe Helen Miranda Wilson, whose recent paintings are on display at the DC Moore Gallery, quite a lot. Each of Ms. Wilson’s smallish panels (the biggest is 16 by 20 inches) is an accumulation of smaller rectangles of various hues. A solitary monochrome, it turns out, isn’t an option given the aesthetic and biographical imperatives informing the work.

In the press release for the exhibition, DC Moore refers to Ms. Wilson’s new body of work as “calendar paintings.” Certainly, reliance on a grid—albeit one that’s loose-limbed and prone to fluctuations in proportion and rhythm—will recall the layout of a typical calendar. Ms. Wilson’s appointment book, in fact, serves as a recurring point of reference.

Yet this association has as much to do with painterly process as with determining composition. The steady accretion of colored rectangles can be likened to a series of diary entries, with each color signifying an event or an emotion specific to a given day. Given the unhurried, meditative character of Ms. Wilson’s jewel-like panels, one can assume that they are the cumulative result of weeks, and perhaps months, of sustained painting. Indeed, the passage of time seems to be a primary concern for Ms. Wilson, as indicated by titles like Year, Two Years, Winter and several listing specific dates. Other pictures are named for people (Rembrandt, for Pat Lipsky), places (Brooklyn) and things (Lunch, Cupcake).

Best known as a representational painter—for many, her 1995 exhibition of cloud paintings at Jason McCoy Gallery remains a high-water mark for contemporary art—Ms. Wilson has adopted abstraction in response to recent changes in her life. Her duties as an elected official in Wellfleet, Mass., as well as the responsibilities attendant to her livelihood as a beekeeper, have prompted Ms. Wilson to rethink her priorities as an artist.

“I spend many long hours at meetings …. I absorb relevant data in the same way I used to paint objects or skies. This has diminished my desire to work from observation.” An abstraction of purposefully limited means has become, for Ms. Wilson, an agent for tempering the demands—often unpredictable, sometimes humdrum—of day-to-day life.

Notwithstanding the turn away from representation, much remains the same: Ms. Wilson’s approach is, as ever, meticulous; the surfaces are lustrous and dense; and her colors are absorbing in their gentle shifts of tone and temperature. How much the viewer, coming in cold off the street, will take away from the pictures is a potentially vexing question. Is a back-story necessary to connect with and take pleasure in them?

In the hands of a lesser artist, probably. But Ms. Wilson is one of our best painters; she knows well enough that a painting lives or dies by the qualities inherent in its crafting. While it’s too early to take a full measure of the recent work—Ms. Wilson’s abstractions still seem a bit unsteady, as if they weren’t quite sure of their place in the world—the DC Moore exhibition, in its beauty and poise, must nonetheless count as one of the season’s happiest events.

Helen Miranda Wilson: Recent Paintings is at the DC Moore Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, until Nov. 5.

Faux Freakout

Freakout is the title of the New York solo debut of Franklin Evans, on display at the Jeff Bailey Gallery, but it’s more an indication of the artist’s intentions than an accurate description of the work. Each of Mr. Evans’ smallish watercolors is a kaleidoscopic scattering of patterns, diagrams, silhouetted figures, splatters, drips and—here and there—written notations. Despite a wide-ranging palette, Mr. Evans sacrifices tonal clarity and strong value contrasts for the sake of establishing washy, dreamlike vistas. Pictorial incident is similarly downplayed, resulting in amorphous, all-over compositions. Mood, not image, is Mr. Evans’ overriding concern.

The pieces are attractive in a hazy, dazed kind of way. Suggesting reveries spurred by our age of information overload, they have enough going on in them to snag the eye. An abraded surface here, a grainy pool of color there—Mr. Evans is adept at contriving painterly effects. That’s why the exhibition title is a misnomer: The artist is too knowing, cautious and willful a talent to truly freak out. Mistaking deliberative overkill for visionary abundance, he’s actually a mild child when putting brush to paper. These are the pictures of a man whose hand is constricted by the limited reach of his imagination. If an artist doesn’t believe in his own fantasies, why should we? That’s a question Mr. Evans doesn’t answer.

Franklin Evans: Freakout is at the Jeff Bailey Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, until Nov. 12.

Professional Painter

Having seen an ad in Art News for the exhibition of paintings by Andy Collins at the midtown branch of the Mary Boone Gallery, I was prepared to hate it. The lone painting reproduced didn’t promise much of anything, nor did the advance scuttlebutt on Mr. Collins. Another slick young turk specializing in cartoonish abstraction and bodily unease? Charming. Mary Boone can keep him.

I forgot about the show until I stumbled into Boone, following on the heels of a group of students. The pictures were pretty much as advertised: antiseptic dissections of the human body rendered in synthetic colors, sheeny paint and stylized shapes. The deadpan allusions to genitalia and inner organs, placed in near-symmetrical arrangements of form, are predictable tokens representing nothing more than a scene’s unending fascination with an icky, sickly eroticism.

But then an unexpected realization occurs: Mr. Collins’ paintings aren’t half bad. They suffer from the rampant professionalism typical of many young artists, wherein a signature style is manufactured and not earned. Yet the pictures are smartly constructed, the chilly palette is consistent and, in a couple of canvases, the shifts of space and light are close to thrilling. Whether Mr. Collins will ever have anything meaningful to impart about the human condition remains to be seen. He knows enough about painting, though, to make one curious about what he does next.

Andy Collins: Paintings is at the Mary Boone Gallery, 745 Fifth Avenue, until Oct. 29. From Clouds to Calendars: Wilson Adopts Abstraction