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“Ten: Modern Abstract”
MonOrchid, Phoenix, Arizona
Review by Deborah Ross

Thuong Nguyen, "Trail Head," mixed media on canvas

Continuing through November 28, 2015

Abstract art is an inclusive category, with many offshoots and many means by which the absence of narrative content and recognizable objects directs contemplation. “Ten: Modern Abstract” reflects this by spotlighting ten Arizona artists working in the genre. Its breadth is somewhat too all-embracing, with a number of the works tending more toward bland graphic design and decorative mixed media. Still, the handful of artists who excel in abstraction make up for those who offer gloss.

Denise Fleisch shows how color fields can offer much more than initially meets the eye. An “Untitled” work (oil and acrylic gel on canvas) has red and turquoise fields  jarringly meet at a purple “river.” A glob of clear gel spurts up near the center, an intriguing addition that amounts to a meta-comment on the painter’s dilemma in incorporating colors. Holly Anderson makes subtle use of clouds of metallic acrylic paint that call to mind the gaseous, roiling atmosphere beyond our planet. “Skies Beneath,” with its focus on a white orb, includes hints of blue in two corners that connect the scene to earth. The sinuous and towering resin sculptures of Kevin Caron provide a pleasing counterpoint to the paintings and mixed media works. He typically creates large-scale outdoor metal sculpture. But the monochromatic “Black Mesa” and other pieces here are experiments with 3-D printing.

Four archival pigment prints by Jeff Davis, from his “Stack” series, are precisely rendered bricks that explore the clean lines and angles of geometry, with Escher-like illusion emanating from chevrons, stairs and zigzags. Thuong Nguyen’s mixed media canvases underscore the magnetism and viewer involvement of abstract art. “Trail Head” is a conglomeration of splatters, swaths, drips, delicate marks and creases. The scratched white field in the upper third of the canvas evokes the heat of the sun rising over the desert.

Daniel Shepherd’s “Untitled” acrylic-on-wood piece consists of 21 square and rectangular blocks arrayed across a wall. It is one of the strongest works in the show. The blocks are black with white stripes across the top, yet there’s more that Shepherd wants to say about color: corners of the blocks have been chipped away to reveal neon colors, especially a reddish orange, as if flames are licking the blocks’ edges. The work exemplifies abstraction’s concern not only with color, but also with shape, composition and technique in its effort to elicit a more profound level of viewer reaction.

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