Perpetual Tension

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The New York Sun

In artist Deborah Rosenthal’s gouaches and oil paintings, opposing ideas collide: figuration merges with abstraction, formalist rigor blends with an offhand style, and personal imagery bumps up against universal themes.

Ms. Rosenthal’s paintings also appear to reconcile two very different influences; she combines the purified abstraction of Piet Mondrian’s De Stijl compositions with the quirky, expressionist canvases of Paul Klee. Mondrian wrote that to convey “absolute reality,” it was necessary to forgo figuration, reducing painting to “the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour.” Klee, on the other hand, peppered his prismatic Bauhaus pictures with whimsical, childlike stick figures. Ms. Rosenthal’s canvases synthesize both artistic influences.

In “Suspended Forms,” 2017, triangular shapes give order to the composition. The triangles’ peaks touch the top edge of the canvas, calling attention to a well-designed pictorial structure. But the triangles also read as mountains, and, on the left side of the picture, beneath a horizon line, wiggly stick figures do the backstroke in a pool of pink paint.

Zigzagging lines divide areas of blue and brown paint in “With Deer,” 2015. Buried in this field of angles, a loosely sketched deer is colored in orange. The sure-handed animal outline harkens back to the beasts of Lascaux cave painting, while the geometric design references rigorous modernist abstraction.

Gouaches here are made with a crosshatching technique. In a statement accompanying the exhibition, Ms. Rosenthal sites “the principle of Mondrian’s verticals and horizontals,” explaining that her hatch marks “draw attention to the vertical and horizontal edges of the picture plane.”

“Reclining Figure, Bright Hills,” 2017, is a tapestry of woven, matte strokes of gouache paint. Slate blue, beige, brick red and olive green marks weave together to create a landscape of triangular forms. A figure’s recumbent pose looks inspired by Etruscan sarcophagi sculpture.

By mingling disparate elements, Ms. Rosenthal pictures fuse the natural world with Mondrian’s Neo-plastic principles. In an artist’s statement accompanying this exhibit, Ms. Rosenthal celebrates this clash, writing, “this web of space is tightly bound to the surface, or picture plane—it is a kind of trampoline of space from which forms can bound back into fictional space or forward toward our real space.” The “back-and-forth of this mysterious and mystical space,” she writes, “are held in perpetual tension.”

Falling Uphill: Paintings, on view through February 24, 2018, Bowery Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY, 646-230-6655,

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

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