The cacophony of vibrant patterns and colors in the Akron Art Museum is a welcome antidote to the muted grays of an Akron winter. “Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting,” opened last week and features 13 working abstract painters from across the country.
High-key colors, layered surfaces and experiments with space and size help these artists cross the boundary between the canvas and what lies beyond.
Like Paul Henry Ramirez, who looks at his installations as much more than the sum of their parts. Viewers are going to “enter into the belly of the work,” he says. “They’re really going to have a sense of scale and size and a new way of looking at painting.” And this scale ranges from larger-than-life sprawls of vivid color — contrasted by geometric black shapes — across entire walls, to 36 intricate ballpoint pen drawings on Ralph Lauren paint chips, which he created using a magnifying glass: they line up in formation across and up the wall.
“ I view the space as an empty canvas, so that’s a starting point for it,” says Ramirez, who for 17 years has mined the paint palette for specific tones, like “Hot Lips” and “Strawberry Shortcake,” both of which may be found in his Akron installation.
Ramirez — who was born in El Paso, Texas — creates a multidimensional experience and a dialogue between art and viewer. He and the other artists have created a multi-sensory buffet that’s so rich that a number of patrons at the recent Opening Reception had to take breaks in the lobby between bouts of viewing.
Ryan McGinness’ stenciled iconography, with layer upon layer of pop culture icons and signage, is especially striking. Each object fades in and out of the paintings like spirits.
Bombastic color and patterns also figure prominently in Susan Chrysler White’s work, another “Beauty Reigns” contributor.
“My work has always dealt with a compulsion for patterning and decorative element,” says White, whose work is informed from living in a number of cultures around the world: from European, Latin and Asian countries to the Bay Area in California and her current home in Iowa, all of which adds to the eccentricity of her style.
White uses figural forms, prismatic patterns and bilateral symmetry. Her two paintings on display at the exhibit, “Cradle” and “Night Fires,” each give the viewer the sensation of peeking through a universe of vivid, saturated patterns into a “rip,” which offers a window into more familiar looking landscapes.
“The Cradle has a linear scaffolding sort of structure that exists that feels very much like it could be a woven element,” she says, pointing to the butterfly-like shapes making their way across the bottom. She adds that the piece was inspired by the death of her sister-in-law. “I was interested in the idea of playing with the transformation of this butterfly that moves across.”
The bright patterns are directly influenced by spiritual influences and the “Eye of God” (Ojo De Dios) imagery in Native cultures.
The concept of beauty is subjective, but White says that “we’re embracing it all. There’s a kind of pluralism that’s fabulous. It allows people to look at things that exude beauty through a lot of different lenses.
“I also am interested in the seductive nature of beauty: how beauty brings you in. Something beautiful seduces you and brings you to it. I’m also interested in what you do with it, how you address it.”
“Beauty Reigns” features the work of 13 artists spanning two generations, and the exhibit runs through May 3. The show is organized by Rene Paul Barilleaux for the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio.
The exhibit also features Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A), Kamrooz Aram, Charles Burwell, Annette Davidek, Fausto Fernandez, Nancy Lorenz, Beatriz Milhazes, Jiha Moon, Rex Ray and Rosalyn Schwartz. The Akron showing of this exhibit is made possible by a major grant from The Lehner Family Foundation.
The Akron Art Museum is located at 1 South High St. in downtown Akron. For information, including hours of operation, visit www.akronartmuseum.org.