Slow Spilling Movement: The Paintings of Bobbie Oliver  
Bobbie Oliver Paintings at Valentine
September 25 to October 18, 2015
Bobbie Oliver, Forever, For Hudson, #1, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 22 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Valentine. Photo: Kevin Noble
Bobbie Oliver, Forever, For Hudson, #1, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 22 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Valentine. Photo: Kevin Noble
The recent arrival of Valentine Gallery to Ridgewood adds to a growing gallery scene there that includes Famous Accountants, English Kills and Outpost. Fred Valentine, himself an accomplished painter, organizes a program of exhibitions with a bias toward painting, and this, the first exhibition in his new space, presents new abstract paintings by Bobbie Oliver. Though the space is modest in scale its high ceilings readily accommodate larger works. The largest painting here is Teal Daylight (2010) at 63 x 68 inches (it is also the earliest work here) while the smallest, a dark green painting on a sidewall of its own, is Untitled (2015).
Greens are often regarded as difficult colors in abstract painting, but not so for Oliver, nor for the dedicatee of one of the paintings, the much missed Hudson of Feature, Inc. It was in the window of Hudson’s gallery that I first saw a painting of Oliver’s in 2012, a large triptych that recalled the touch and directness of Chinese landscape painting, even from across Allen Street. So, Forever, for Hudson (#1) is a good place to begin contemplating Oliver’s work. It is characteristic of her oeuvre, technically and chromatically. Paint is applied, often wet into wet, and then manipulated using a variety of different methods, some discernable, some not. For example the darker green shape to the left of center appears to mirror its upper and lower halves vertically, though not exactly, as a result of folding of the canvas. Unusually, in this instance, it is a cut piece from a larger work mounted on a smaller canvas, exactly to size. Oliver always preps her canvases with a couple of coats of gesso as this enables a specific surface quality that she desires, and that makes the paintings distinct from color field stain painting that tended to exploit raw canvas. What she achieves is something akin to the immediacy of gouache or watercolor. Avoiding the potential grandiosity of gesture, Oliver imbues the painting with a practical sense of responsiveness, both to the materiality of paint and the fluctuating light of color.
Bobbie Oliver, Teal Daylight, 1010. Acrylic on canvas, 23 x 68 inches. Courtesy of Valentine. Photo: Kevin Noble
Bobbie Oliver, Teal Daylight, 1010. Acrylic on canvas, 23 x 68 inches. Courtesy of Valentine. Photo: Kevin Noble
In Teal Daylight, pouring, and blotting off, with newspaper draw attention to the surface of the painting in the way condensation does to a windowpane. Again, Oliver eschews grand sweeping gesture in favor of slow spilling movement, distributing paint compositionally in ways that determine a fluid, shifting pictorial space. The openness of method does not diminish the mystery of the final configurations. There is closely restricted color range, but it would be misleading to think of this as a monochrome painting as there is nothing anti-compositional about the piece. The shapes and tonal play recall shadows and reflections, or clouds and sheets of rain. But these shapes are not literal representations of things, eschewing the tradition of perspective and its assumptions.
Another recurring color choice for Oliver is the red/blue/violet of Under + Over (2012). Acknowledgment of the edge of the painting by cutting off shapes adds an almost geometric contrast to the flows of color across the rectangle. The looseness of painterly facture is impressive when considering how precise the relationships end up being. There is a rightness or dynamic balance that arrives like the sound of a chord in relation to its constituent notes.
Installation shot, Alain Kirili/Bobbie Oliver, at Hionas Gallery
Installation shot, Alain Kirili/Bobbie Oliver, at Hionas Gallery
We have another opportunity to view Oliver’s paintings at Hionas Gallery in a show that opened October 8 where she has been placed in an interesting pairing with the sculptor Alain Kirili. Both artists bring to my mind the legacy of Jackson Pollock: Oliver, by focusing on the fluid materiality of paint and its possibilities for pictorial space; Kirili by drawing in space in a way that is linear, punctuated and cursive like the drawing in late Pollock.
Bobbie Oliver, Under and Over, 2012. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 47 inches. Courtesy of Valentine. Photo: Kevin Noble
Bobbie Oliver, Under and Over, 2012. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 47 inches. Courtesy of Valentine. Photo: Kevin Noble


In the Garden, 2008, a/c, 63x68 inches 

Working for Isamu Noguchi in the 1980's, Bobbie Oliver saw the time this artist took to study a stone before altering it in any way. She extends this temporal knowledge to the painted surface, attracted to paint's alchemical properties and open to the information that the materials give up when they are ready. Some paintings seem like maps of a mysterious world, others resemble stained walls made beautiful from time and accident. Her method of rubbing, printing, and blotting creates what she calls a "tactile universe," full of texture and drifting atmosphere. Like the early 20th-century Canadian painters known as the Group of Seven, Oliver responds to the natural world with a heightened sensibility. Her paintings often vibrate with their intentions, full of what Oliver calls, "a state of becoming with the potential for self revelation." They usually exist at either end of the color scale, like warm and cool Petri dishes, with their organic shapes blooming in washes of pink or blue/green. Time spent in Italy, Pakistan and India have expanded Oliver's strategies for addressing abstraction. Memories of their physical landscape and tempo fill her canvas. Pushing "pretty" colors into a strange register, Oliver tosses the organic and synthetic together to create a floating stand-off. Like Willem de Kooning's announcement that Larry River's painting was like pressing your face into wet grass, Oliver erases the line between the painted and the paint. 

- Mimi Thompson is a painter and writer living in New York


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