Airing it out

Works by Aschheim, Buck, Gottlieb, and Prine
By GREG COOK  |  November 24, 2009

IMPROVISED HARMONY Aschheim’s Convergence.

New York painter Eve Aschheim has said that she uses geometry in her abstractions "to 'think about' the intersection of nature and cityscape. My works might suggest the chaotic geometry of the city, the expectant stillness of air, the tenuous balance of a wire line against a building."

Aschheim's drawings and paintings on view at Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery (600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence, through December 2) are filled with dashed lines and hard edges that look cut up and scattered about and at the same time recall the taped lines of a house painting job. Her drawings in blue, black, and violet gesso, and ink and pencil on frosty mylar, have lots of visible erasing and rubbing out, as if revealing her rethinking and redrawing as she looks for the right balance.

Aschheim favors an off-kilter geometry, never hitting a true vertical or horizontal, always preferring oblique angles. In her 2008 painting Suspended (for Bruce Connor), black lines branch against a white background that thins to a blue haze at the bottom. It feels something like a vector diagram of bare tree branches seen against snow.

These sorts of abstract compositions are delicate balancing acts in which a curdled color or a wrong angle to a line can throw everything out of whack. Judging this sort of work is particularly subjective, but Asch-heim seems to hit about as often as she misses. These misses feel like sour notes in a harmony, leaving the paintings awkward, uncomfortable.

In her 2008 painting Convergence, opaque grayed white, pale turquoise, pale white-lime, and cerulean blue are painted on with the consistency of cake frosting or spackle. The colors have a patchy feel, like graffiti painted out on a warehouse wall. Fine lines angle down through the center. They seem to be hurrying off somewhere. Aschheim feels her way to a delicate improvised harmony. When it comes together like this, the works hum.

Andrew Buck of Farmington, Connecticut, finds a related kind of abstract geometry in his panoramic landscape photos, but he comes at it from the opposite direction of Aschheim. In "An Exhibition of Photography," a three-person show at the Krause Gallery at Moses Brown School (250 Lloyd Avenue, Providence, through December 4), his black-and-white "Ohio Horizon" photos adopt a short, wide format — like two or three old photo booth photos arranged end to end — that seems especially attuned to the resolutely flat, horizontal landscape of these farms in northwest Ohio, where his in-laws reside.

Buck documents landscapes reshaped by people. A semi truck stands outside a farmhouse in the snow. A mass of windbreak trees rests like a great dark cloud that has landed in the middle of a vast sea of low planted fields. Silvery silos, white barns, windbreak trees, and power lines rise out of a shimmering field of what looks like corn.

Buck's photos bring to mind panoramas that the late Illinois photographer Art Sinsabaugh shot in the Midwest in the 1960s, an inspiration Buck has acknowledged. Sinsabaugh pushed his compositions to strikingly greater extremes. But perhaps the main difference between their styles is that Sinsabaugh captured the rhythms of the land, trees, field furrows, utility poles, and silos, while Buck instead divines an internal geometric harmony of lines (utility poles, power lines) and rectangles (barns, trucks, billboards) in his compositions.

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