We don’t like to think that such differences exist, but artistic expression can be characterized by exceptions in gender. Both women and men have separate but equal agendas, temperaments, and as a consequence of this, their formal and esthetic results may widely differ. This is certainly the case in the exhibition “Present Tense” which brings together the work of Yvonne Estrada, Sean Greene, Clint Jukkala, Barbara Neulinger—four painters who each exemplify a divergent strain in contemporary currents of abstraction. Taken individually, the fusion of four unique talents would be enough reason to warrant attention—even fascination—with the attempts and achievements each makes into the formal ground of painterly abstraction. Yet as gender based pairs, and as practitioners of divergent inspiration, they each add to our understanding of what painting can mean for us.
The men in the show are involved with bright colors and hard edges, while the women are involved with gesture and depth of field. Sean Greene’s paintings are a compelling amalgam of gestural forms, but as they will appear in the future. Greene claims to be inspired by the signatures of graffiti and the fractured, though presumably articulate and soaring movement of skateboarding. They take on a gracefulness that they do not possess in life, unless the ardent practitioner strongly resembles the dedication of a talented musician or dancer. They are the shadows of past gestures choreographed for the use of future generations.
Clint Jukkula’s paintings intrinsically evoke the kind of resplendent environment dramatized within early versions of video games, epitomized by the film “Tron” (seeing a remake this year), with their given visual complexity, and the distance they possess from the landscapes of everyday life. Even when they break down, seeming to melt on the screen, it is not unlike the event of paint running too thinly on a canvas. Given the rugged materiality of Jukkula’s work, this shows the work’s relationship to its exterior environment, how paint may look like pixels but is still an organic medium relative to the human condition.
Barbara Neulinger’s forms are inspired from seaman’s knots, the type which any young boy completing for achievement badges in the Boy Scots would be required to prove proficiency. Such knots are a system of order, but also they inhabit a world of chance, of gesture, and of the intimations of design. They represent exactly the sort of real-world problem solving which is often at home in the hands of an artist. To solve the visual appearance of such knots, to place its squarely within the language of painting, is to understand how they exist in everyday life, in history, and in the life of the mind.
Yvonne Estrada deals with the expression of helixes, which are used in mathematics to explore the dynamic of quantum events, such as those in weather or the swirling forms of cosmic narrative beyond the comprehension of imagination despite appearing to resemble forms as the artist would naturally depict. Her work is primarily improvisational, having been generated from a simple calligraphic gesture, but this also connects it to a source of knowledge, as well as to stylistic determinations. Her works include both minute forms that preclude the use of large areas of negative space, and right at the tangent where automatism is wed to discipline, immediacy and detachment.
The words in the title of this exhibition are both succinct and deft. Each artist’s oeuvre is intensely displayed, suggesting the vicissitudes of temperament, talent, and cooperation with divergent trends in pictorial abstraction. Yet they also deliver a tension between their formal destinations which are not shared either across gender lines. The more time one spends in their company, the more they will all make their points clear.