Ruth Pastine: BroadBands
Porch Gallery, Ojai
March 22 – April 22, 2018
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Ruth Pastine’s chromatically saturated paintings are in some ways odes to the power of pure color, but they are also excavations of the artist’s role in communicating, manipulating, and amplifying that power. And anyway they’re too disruptive to be pure. Pastine mostly organizes her work into two series: Red/Green and Blue/Yellow, referring to those prominent opposites on the color wheel; but those binaries are insufficient to describe the invigorated range, depth, and breadth of her truer palette. She may start with simple, gestural, single-pitch color keys, but by the time she is done working with a canvas, we’re gifted with indigo, navy, fuchsia, vermillion, tangerine, crimson, amber, sage, lavender, oxblood, teal, and turquoise.
As a colorist, and despite her penchant for wielding brushes heavy with wet oil paint and working the canvas surface to the point of suffusion, Pastine has more in common with James Turrell than she does with Helen Frankenthaler or Mark Rothko. Despite the muscularity of her patinated painterliness, Pastine’s relatively straight and nearly symmetrical lines organize her compositions in a more architectural than organic modality. And although the paintings are not actually electric or kinetic, in seeing them one has the distinct sensation of colors breathing, deepening, shifting, and vibrating, changing even as you look right at them, emanating activated auras. You catch yourself in the act of seeing, and the quality of your attention in some ways provides a narrative dimension to the work’s content.
Pastine’s relationship to her materials, at least recently, also generates a kind of unexpected narrative as well. She lives in Ojai, and in the displacement following the recent wildfires, she found herself in a situation of wanting to work in a more intimate scale, and traded her oil on canvas for a suite of pastel on paper works. In using those materials, she discovered that her hand-blending process could only get so far with the powdery pigment, and the pronounced optical banding at the color-shift areas were the result. Yet what presented itself as a problem, or at least a limitation, soon captivated Pastine’s imagination on its own terms. Thus began a series of new large-scale, beveled-edge oil paintings in which the banding that was always avoided or elided, is now being courted and replicated.
This banding does more than break up the surface plane, it creates the illusion of pictorial space, even in the absence of a picture, and by juxtaposition highlights divergent elements of her craft in a way that creates more clarity about each. Pastine understands her current interest in the banding phenomenon as intimately related to the overall long-term progression of her practice; as not so much a break as an evolution. Her cultivation of color transitions remains as it has been, at the center of her practice. The bands she describes as fundamentally the same, but “compressed,” as she says, “like an accordion.” Thus the previous works depict expanded spaces, whereas the banded spaces are contracted; the same field of light and transition, but increasingly dense, so the naked eye can better see the brackish edge effects that were always there but are usually more ethereal — so that what was once sensed, is now seen as well.