Adah Rose Bitterbaum loves art. Just being near her you can sense the excitement she feels when talking about art. Her tiny gallery on Howard Avenue in Kensington brings to mind Alfred Stieglitz’s famed Gallery 291 which, though physically small, was hugely important in introducing modern art to New York viewers and supported an important group of artists in the early twentieth century. So too, Adah Rose’s enthusiasm for contemporary art in our region also supports a wide range of artists working in an equally broad range of media. On view there now is a modest but captivating show of two artists who are both working with pattern. Its title is taken from “Silence,” a poem by American poet Marianne Moore.
Pat Goslee has been working with abstract patterns for some years, always looking for different ways to express that interest. In this group of five paintings, her shapes tend to be organic, her palette tending toward the pastel, with lots of pink and light blues. One work, “Falling Upward” appears from a distance like a wreath of pink flowers. On closer inspection, the forms are complex; including transfers of lace and mesh that Goslee has been doing for some time. She began doing it with wax or encaustic, but abandoned that a few years ago for oils and spray paint with which she continues to work.
The results are densely formed compositions with botanical forms that layer over each other in ways that produce an illusion of deep pictorial space. A good example of this is her “Enigma of the Eternal Now,” clearly a title that invites a metaphysical interpretation. Again, the floral comparison comes to mind: the forms look like a bouquet pushing upward. Yet, there are large white plastic forms on the left of the painting that defy that interpretation, and the tiny curling forms that make up much of this “bouquet” don’t actually look floral at all. This is what makes Goslee’s paintings so intriguing and delightful. They seem to reflect something in nature because of their organic richness, but they are actually quite abstract in the end. The freshness of the colors and the strangely inscrutable formations in her paintings make Goslee’s works both visually attractive and compelling in that they encourage looking and wondering. The artist has commented on this aspect of her work in an interview with Isabel Manalo published in 2011: “One thing that excites me is how pattern and layering represent how we store ‘stuff’ (information, emotional baggage, awareness) … What layers need to be removed or rearranged, in order to change? There’s a lot of back and forth the when I work. Foreground changes to background … I can get lost in the patterns … The most important thing is to try and stay open … We are all energy conduits … My paintings are a way of visualizing that energy.”
Jessica Van Brakle’s work has taken on a clear identity in the past few years because of her signature use of crane and construction metaphors drawn with fine black lines often paired with organic forms. The work now on exhibit is from a series of drawings she titled “Flatland.” Limiting herself to those lines and flat black forms, and continuing to work with shapes derived from the construction crane, each of these exquisitely rendered works adds a different shade of blue to the black and white, along with tiny “gems” (the artist’s word) of bright colors highlighting certain points in the image. As the artist has said, here she uses “the two-dimensional plane to explore the multidimensional possibilities of human perception.” In addition, the theme of nature versus man-made, which has been fundamental to her work, is very much in evidence here where the nature component is far more evident than in previous works, as well as a spiritual dimension that expresses itself in mandala-like wheels and shapes reminiscent of fractals and crystals. For example, in “Compass Flower” Van Brackle confines the crane forms to petals around a black organic shape that resembles a snowflake. Black petals surround the inner “flower” with tiny linear projections at certain points around it. This extra material is reminiscent of the fractal drawings of early twentieth century scientists, before computer renderings were possible. It is visible in a number of these works where the forms, drawn with geometric and symmetrical exactitude, are extended, or enhanced around the edges; pulled outward in seemingly random ways. These linear extensions also give the drawings a handmade quality that belies the impression that these are prints — something which, according to Adah Rose, is the frequent mistake of many visitors.
Van Brakle’s interest in the crane form rises from her family background. Her grandfather and father were in the construction business, and worked particularly on big projects with cranes. Her studio is full of plastic crane toys in different sizes and colors like bright red and yellow. Her transformation of these into elegant ink drawings executed with a little squeegee with a metal nib and a small brush is nothing less than fascinating. The clean lines of the crane forms are contrasted with plant forms in compositions that often seem kaleidoscopic or blossoming in character. Among the most striking of the pieces in this exhibit is “Alcove,” a small drawing where the primary shape is recognizably a tree, its form mirrored on two sides against a blue background resembling a corner. The crane forms fill the negative space where the branches separate, dotted with a pink “gem.” The leaves and branches extend in delicate curving line drawings outside of the geometric containing blue form as if connoting the way nature will usually, or at least ultimately, prevail over the man-made. This Romantic idea is also suggested in the piece called “Spurt” in which a large black form resembling a house is topped by crane forms in two layers. Yet “spurting” out from the center is a flowering plant, a mystical pink “gem” at its top against the pale blue sky.
“The Deepest Feeling Always Shows Itself in Silence,” Pat Goslee and Jessica Van Brakle, to March 23, Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington, 301-922-0162, firstname.lastname@example.org.