The “Shadow Play” Paintings of Debra Drexler at HP Garcia In Drexler’s large oil on linen canvases at HP Garcia, swathes of color float and submerge upon a gray middle ground, suggesting an intermediary realm between water and air, consciousness and dream. Her colors appear to float on, or rather within, reflecting pools of aether, forming sometimes recognizable natural elements such as roots and branches, flowers, or even birds. With an almost musical painterly lyricism, her palette of bright pinks, reds and oranges and violets derives organically from the flora and fauna of Hawaii, where she makes her home. Against the gray open-slate backdrop, which also connotes a formless state of semi-consciousness, these colors move and spark, recede and burble. Though the brighter colors recall her celebrated “Gauguin’s Zombie” series (and of course Gauguin’s own gorgeous Polynesian palette), the tone here is moody and reflective, prompting an instant association with Monet’s Water Lilies and other aquatic works. The deliberately abstracted brushwork, however, acknowledges the practice of AbEx masters such as Joan Mitchell and especially the later works of Willem de Kooning, streaky and bright, painted over or emerging from a veil of mostly gray feathery brushstrokes, a shadowy realm which also serves as a metanym for the uncertain but creative field between painter and viewer. In her catalog essay, Lisa Paul Streitfeld sees Drexler’s figural motifs as evocative of archetypal Jungian emblems, such as the deep roots of the tree, the flying bird of the spirit, and particularly the Shadow(s) we all battle in our attempts to subsume the ego, tapping into the power of a collective unconsciousness. For Strietfield (and apparently for Drexler as well) these paintings themselves serve as metaphors of spiritual transformation, much as the processes of the alchemists did for Jung, with shamanic echoes of healing and self-sublimation. Drexler attempts to map the points at which might certainty might break though the murk of uncertainty, or joy emerge from anxiety (Think Beethoven, or Joy Division(?), just as daylight breaks through a shade of branches. In the large double-canvases such as “Poesis Through Forked Branch” or “Dissolution into Joy”, a triumphant chord of awareness is carried by the sheer verve and skilled coloring of the paintings themselves, emerging from the struggle and chaos of the multicolored but mostly grayish striations of what appears a muddled, middle ground. One can also see in these works a kind of synecdoche for the state of contemporary painting in general, echoed in Drexler’s cryptic statement: “Form offers roots but is sticky with entanglements”. Her paintings evince conflict as well as some resolution of the flux between figural and abstract, chaos and deliberation, the cosmological or spiritual and the stubborn, even seductively terrestrial. Behind and even with the dazzling colors of paradise lies a grey miasma of mundanity (and the gray matter which must sort it). A gray area that also defines a point of departure. The figural elements (un)certainly function as metaphors, even in their inchoate and airy forms. Like the most powerful abstract paintings of the last century, reproductions can only provide a crude chart of her stratagem; the luminosity of the oils themselves, along with their deft application can really only be truly appreciated in person. These are rare works, which show an artist struggling with and for the spirit.
HP Garcia Gallery
580 Eighth Avenue @ 38th Street (7th Floor)
Gallery Hours: Tues- Sat 1 - 6 pm