Contradiction is at the heart of Marjorie Minkin's recent, enigmatic works. For starters, these unpredictable objects made of space age plastic are unequivocally paintings, not reliefs or sculptural constructions, despite their refusal to remain planar rectangles and despite their aggressive demands on space - their muscular arching away from the wall, their sunken hollows, and their rippling edges. Minkin's language is purely optical, pictorial, painterly, no matter how much her pictures depend on real, three-dimensional inflections and on the properties of materials usually associated with sculpture. It is no less true that the optical, pictorial qualities of her paintings - the play of transparency against opacity, for example, or of impenetrable puddles of color against diaphanous tinted mists- exist not as traditional painting's intangible incidents of pigment spread on canvas, but instead as robust, literal manipulations of a hard, brittle, recalcitrant surface. Yet it is the very physical characteristics of that surface that have allowed Minkin to enlarge her pictorial vocabulary, that have afforded her new ways of drawing, new ways of modulating what is seen, and new expressive means.
In a sense, Minkin could be said to have simultaneously deconstructed and reconstituted the basic elements of abstract painting. Line, color, and shape have been detached from the once sacrosanct, inviolable picture plane and given a fresh existence in intensely physical terms. Trails and sweeps of color surmount the crests of inflected surfaces or pool in the valleys, isolated by expanses of unpainted Lexan that, like the expanses of unpainted canvas in the work of a previous generation of abstract color painters, clarify and define drawing and shape. This sounds as though the result might be extremely graphic, but, quite the contrary, Minkin's paintings are notable for their subtle tonality. Yet this tonal variation is itself intimately linked to the physical properties of her chosen materials. Like a composer born after the development of the modern piano who exploits the coloristic range of its overtones and sustained notes, Minkin modulates hues not by changing their tonality or degree of saturation, but by exploring the possibilities afforded by the properties of Lexan. She can make her surfaces clear or clouded, transparent or translucent through her manipulations; she can play with shadows and pools of projected color by controlling the way her pictures are lit. And so on. Hues shift as we move; ghosts and haloes of color add ephemeral subtleties, suggesting transience and the possibility of change at the same time that they remind us of the spatial reality of Minkin's swelling and retreating surfaces. Curiously, this is even more acute in her unpainted works, in which "color" changes are entirely a function of physical changes in the character of the Lexan and the burden of drawing and gesture is carried by edges and real changes of direction. In these "paintings," differences in the angle of perception intensify the nuances of opacity and transparency created by surface inflections, making these seemingly sculptural efforts among Minkin's most painterly.
Minkin's narrow, vertical pictures can read as fragile, weightless sheets blown against the wall, crumpled and momentarily held in place by a puff of wind. But their confrontational verticality and their human scale and proportions can also invoke classical torsos, fragmented by the passage of time, here updated and regenerated in wholly modern materials and contemporary language. Everyone's associations will be different, of course. In the end, Minkin's works are fresh, engaging objects that require no explanation or justification, but it is also true that these lyrical, playful pictures, which can be a little brash or very elegant, sometimes all at once, can also suggest an expansion of the definition of what painting can be. Two related caveats. While Minkin's work takes full advantage of the special qualities of her materials, materials are, ultimately, simply means to an end. It's the result that counts and here, the result speaks for itself. But for the originality and high quality of that result to be understood, these pictures must be experienced directly. Minkin's subtly shaped and inflected paintings are almost impossible to photograph and difficult to describe. They address the eye wordlessly and insistently. They make us question our assumptions about the nature of painting. And they remain elusive and hard to categorize. That's part of their strength.
Karen Wilkin New York, August 2002