Alibi V.12 No.38 • Sept 18-24, 2003 

Art Article

Abstraction Action

Periphery at the Coleman Gallery

Detail from "Fertile Fragment III" by Alan Paine Radebaugh
Detail from "Fertile Fragment III" by Alan Paine Radebaugh

A quick glance at Alan Paine Radebaugh's latest paintings suggests he's made a dramatic reversal. Radebaugh's previous paintings were extremely subdued in both color and form. Deceptively simple abstracts, they consisted of topographical shapes captured in the earthiest of tones.

His newest paintings, on the other hand, couldn't be more different. His "Fertile Fragment" series, currently on display at the Coleman, have succumbed to an almost manic exuberance, communicated in wild swirls of unrestrained color. Even his black and white "Crux" series, which is also in the show, is chaotic and active. At least superficially, these pieces are nothing remotely like Radebaugh's serene paintings from a couple years ago.

Radebaugh's present, though, is tied intimately to his past. His current paintings, like his previous work, are focussed entirely on the natural world. Like the old ones, these new paintings are composed of visual fragments lifted directly from nature then transformed into abstract patterns.

Detail from "Miraggio" by Joyce Shupe
Detail from "Miraggio" by Joyce Shupe

While Radebaugh's earlier paintings seemed to reflect the serenity of the natural world—lending them a passive, almost frozen quality—these new pieces seem to speak of nature's ferocious violent fecundity. It's a dizzying effect, especially in his "Fertile Fragment" paintings, where the sense of upheaval and chaotic growth is almost too much for the unwary viewer to bear. Thankfully, the colorless "Crux" pieces are interspersed throughout the show making it easier to internalize Radebaugh's more florid paintings.

Step down into the lower gallery and you'll find Joyce Shupe's new linear, horizontal abstracts. They're a welcome complement to Radebaugh's work. While Radebaugh's paintings feel agitated and jumpy, Shupe's pieces, formed of very subtle gradations of color and texture, have a pronounced calming effect.

Shupe has layered and scraped her paintings so that different strata of color show through. In some cases, she's scraped the paint right down to the linen, giving them an almost three-dimensional appearance. These paintings are just as interesting, if not more so, when viewed at very close range. As such, they won't duplicate very well in newsprint. To get any inkling of how finely crafted they are, you'll have to visit the gallery in person.

The third artist in the show is Virginia Oechsner, who contributes seven sculptures, constructed of wood, limestone or alabaster. Some of these are a little too precious for my tastes. To take one example, "Embrace" is a block of wood sculpted into bulbous shapes so that it resembles two figures embracing each other. Too cute.

More palatable is the angular limestone piece titled "Insight." Composed of geometric patterns reminiscent of Easter Island heads, this sculpture might not be revolutionary or eye-popping but it is pleasing to look at.

Periphery is a solid show made up of the kind of abstract pieces that are the Coleman's greatest strength. The exhibit will be up for another week or so. Stop by while you still have the chance.

Periphery, an exhibit featuring work by Alan Paine Radebaugh, Joyce Shupe and Virginia Oechsner, runs through Sept. 27 at the Coleman Gallery. 232-0224.