Mind’s Eye

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The New York Sun

Visitors to artist Gregory Amenoff’s current exhibit might mistake the paintings on view as the work of a nature lover. The artist is displaying small, medium and large-size landscape-based abstractions teeming with organic shapes that suggest trees, caves, plant cells, soil, sky and water. But the forms here are not based on careful observation of the natural world. Rather, these are studio creations, more indebted to American Modernist landscape paintings than Mother Nature.

For more than 30 years, Mr. Amenoff has been making richly textured oils inspired by a visionary strain of American art. Mr. Amenoff’s compositions call to mind the mystical pictures of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Charles Burchfield. These modernists saw spirit in untamed nature, and their transcendentalist landscapes reflect first-hand encounters with the woods of New York and Maine. Mr. Amenoff, on the other hand, references this school of American art in order to illustrate his own inner landscape.

In a 1999 interview with curator Debra Bricker Balken, Mr. Amenoff explained, “I have little interest in actual landscape. I am much more interested in art derived from landscape, landscape painting as an idea, than I am in landscape itself.” Invented in the studio, away from any motif, the pictures in this show rely on well-worn symbols. Water is indicated with wavy blue lines; sunshine is represented with strokes of yellow paint emanating from a yellow disc sun; plant stems are indicated with straight green lines.

“Clearing (for JB),” 2016, is one of the largest paintings on display. Two blocky trees frame a brightly colored form outlined with loopy blue lines. Writing in the exhibition catalog, artist Stephen Westfall calls these recurring abstract forms “spatial apertures” and “ovular portals” and likens the design to “bursts of divine space.” This canvas is dedicated to artist Jake Berthot (1939-2014) and here the glowing central shape, which floats up and off the top edge of the picture, suggests a “Beam me up, Scotty” transporter.

Another series of medium-size monochrome landscapes seem to take their inspiration from late 19th-century Hudson River School Luminist artworks. “Tower (Amber),” 2016, is a picture of a scaffolding structure immersed in atmospheric yellow light. Mr. Westfall writes the gallows-like platform in this picture is “clearly a site of reckoning, both an altar and a place of trial… Amenoff is clearly thinking about mortality and accountability, and he is well aware that a painting’s surface is also a platform of reckoning…” An artist’s statement accompanying the exhibit explains Mr. Amenoff wants to charge these paintings with a “personal sense of mortality, longing and hope.”

Referencing the pictorial language of late-19th and early-20th century landscape painting might seem a convoluted way to create imagery that purports to be urgently personal. But Mr. Amenoff has been consistent, developing a unique body of work over the last few decades.

In a rare break from American art, Mr. Amenoff based a group of small oils here on artworks by French painter Gustave Courbet. Courbet created a series of paintings depicting the rocky cavern at the source of the Loue, a geological wonder of his native Franche-Comté. Here Mr. Amenoff renders his interpretation of Courbet’s caves with flat shapes and psychedelic colors that disrupt any attempt to read these pictures spatially.

Creating spatially ambiguous pictures with colors that range from earth tones to Day-Glo hues, Mr. Amenoff strives to express his 21st-century existential anxieties.

Ultimately, the success of these pictures depends on the viewer’s interest in deciphering Mr. Amenoff’s complicated mindscapes.

Gregory Amenoff: Recent Paintings, through October 29, 2016, Alexandre Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, Fourth Floor, New York, NY, 212-755-2828, www.alexandregallery.com

More information about Xico Greenwald’s work can be found at xicogreenwald.com

The New York Sun

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