Richard Kalina began his career in the days of the '70s Pattern and Decoration movement, creating intricate, dryly whimsical compositions with repeated motifs that included tornadoes, volcanoes, and black and white Scottie dogs. There was always an element of the unexpected, whether a kitsch motif or an icon of natural destruction depicted in an improbable surround of ribbons, flowers or other flourishes. In the paintings and drawings from 1990 to 2001 that constituted this exhibition, figuration is long gone, but pattern still prevails--as does the essentially flat, deadpan method of paint application to which he has, in recent years, added collage--and there are fewer surprises.
Kalina's medium-size canvases are nearly square (all around 32 by 30 inches), and the colors, sometimes pale and sometimes saturated, generally tend toward the primaries. In a complex process--which itself evolved in the course of making this body of work--repeated campaigns of painting, masking and layering torn strips of paper yielded windowpanes, lattices and dense grids. From a distance, the compositions look like plaids or beefed-up Agnes Martin paintings run amok. Every inch of the surface is determined, and, with the exception of Magician (2000), which contains black splotches that look like ink spots, improvisation takes a back seat to tightly regulated accident.
The real energy in this show was found in Kalina's drawings, where the artist's hand is clearly evident, and graphite and ink are used against the less readily controlled medium of watercolor. Here ink spots clearly are ink spots, and Kalina employs them in a carefree punctuation that sets up a joyful rhythm across the sheet. There is more white, more breathing space, more movement and sheer freedom in the drawings, and while Kalina still uses the grid, it functions simply as the unifying structure for serendipity. Night Vision (1994) is especially satisfying in the way the ink dots--which bleed into the paper to form little lines and crosses--together become a veil, a transparent field in front of 12 stacked targets rendered in alternating primary colors. It proves that the old whimsy is still alive and can even be translated into abstraction when Kalina lets himself go.
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