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Ulli Rooney: New Paintings
In "Notes of 1969," Ellsworth Kelly wrote: "Looking through an aperture (a door or window) is a way that I have been able to isolate or fragment a single form. My first memory of focusing through an aperture occurred when I was around twelve years old. One evening, passing the lighted window of a house, I was fascinated by red, blue, and black shapes inside a room. But when I went up and looked in, I saw a red couch, a blue drape and a black table. The shapes had disappeared. I had to retreat to see them again."2
It is sometimes difficult to talk about art because art is meant to invoke that which has no verbal description. Experience often has no verbal description; and, unfortunately, visually pointing to an experience, as visual art does, does not mean that everyone is ensured the same experience. Hence, artists sometimes use titles or other visual clues to lead viewers toward the emotional response or experience the artist wishes.
Other times, we are led by statements from the artist that attempt to verbally describe their experience so that the viewer may have the same experience as the artist. Interestingly, this revelation only happens after the viewer has made their own visual observation and conclusion, or inconclusion, as the case may be, and has decided to consult the statement and determine whether the conclusions agree, or perhaps to see how far off the rocker the artist really is.
Minimalism is usually one of the most misunderstood art forms of the 20th Century in that, in attempting to come to the gestalt, there is no model of that gestalt that the viewer has with which to compare -- in intent. Certainly, a viewer can say "that is the color blue," or "that is a square." But these are not the gestalts that the artist usually had in mind.
In Ellsworth Kelly's case, his single color shape canvases were meant to evoke precisely items or places, such as the curve of a gothic arch. "The form of my painting is the content," he said - despite the fact that his work is given titles similar to "Red, Blue, Yellow." With Robert Morris, shape and size came to represent the idea of body, or a philosophical exercise on the meaning of function, space, light, and the viewer's field of vision.
In Ulli Rooney's minimalist canvases, we have, however, a connection to Kenneth Noland's view: "We tend to discount a lot of meaning that goes on in life that's non-verbal. Color can convey a total range of mood and expression, of one's experiences in life, without having to give it descriptive or literary qualities." ("Color, Format, and Abstract Art: Interview by Diane Waldman", 1977.)2
Ulli Rooney's short artist statement states that her canvases are responsive recordings of the Midwestern view outside her window, and "the surface of the canvas itself has become, through repeated overworkings, the sole object of (her) creative attention." All this is apparent when viewing Rooney's work. Rooney has found her artistic gestalt in describing her world. In all Rooney's paintings, the viewer gets Rooney's non-literal interpretation of those elements she observes in her landscape -- the one quality, the gestalt, that everyone can agree on as the one quality specific to that element.
Beyond just a color on a square canvas, Rooney has developed a technique bordering on Non-Objective Abstract Expressionism. The representation of the colors involved on the canvas are meant to describe that which does not need "a descriptive or literary quality." In "Frost" (2000) Rooney chooses to juxtapose two cool blues that when combined, create a third blue from a distance -- the essence of what we picture frost to be, though not a literal interpretation. "Farm" (2000) is the same, except with two greens: one more yellow than the other. In these and many others, Rooney seems to be using modern, organic pigments to create the overall effect of the inorganic pigments used by the Impressionists and earlier. The brushwork in the paintings employs broad, multi-directional swaths of color upon color, with little variation in texture or style between the canvases; if the actual surface and brushwork of paint upon canvas is supposed to evoke part of the response, it is not evident.
There are nine oil and enamel canvas paintings in this show, all 54" x 54" and executed in a similar fashion, brandishing the same color layering and brushstroke technique. The paintings in the show were all completed this last year. (Fassbender Gallery has a number of additional works completed in the same style previous to 2000 on their website at http://www.fassbendergallery.com.) They differ only in their finality of color and, like a signature, the final brushwork is not the same between any two. The size of each canvas is effective in conveying the color and mood -- confronted by such a large expanse of color and surface, one can't help but be enveloped into it. As well, Fassbender Gallery has hung the paintings fairly far apart, effectively isolating each canvas, and applied appropriate lighting to avoid a glare from nearly any angle from the highly polished enamel surface.
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