Tucson Weekly . Volume 12, Number 9 . May 11 - May 17, 1995

B Y  M A R G R E T  R E G A N

AT A TIME when figurative art, narrative art, political art and even snail art dominate the scene, it's a surprise to happen upon a show devoted almost entirely to the pure pleasures of abstraction.

Herb Gilbert and David Pennington are each exhibiting about a dozen paintings and collages at the Davis Dominguez Gallery (formerly Davis Gallery) up in the foothills. Their collages are quite different from each other--Gilbert's are serene abstractions made of found paper and plants; Pennington's are raucous assemblages of magazine imagery and paper cutouts. They're both abstract painters though, even if they differ markedly in technique.

Gilbert is the classic painter-on-canvas while Pennington uses an unusual reverse technique called dépoulage. Pennington, who recently moved here from Bisbee, gets to his minimalist paintings via maximalist technique. He applies many layers of paint to his constructed wooden boxes and then creates his final image by meticulously sanding away the colors he doesn't want. Sometimes he paints a final little square onto the sanded surface and he usually punctures the surface of the box with holes.

Distinct as their works are from each other, both artists create minimalist paintings that rely for their impact on color and texture, and on compositions so subtle you can barely make them out. Defined by Gilbert's pale lime stripes snaking almost invisibly through a field of blue or Pennington's reds leaking through a patch of yellow, the quiet spaces of their works invite reverie. Without a clearly defined story or point of view to impose on their audiences, these enticing works allow viewers to glory in the delights of color on color.

Some of the paintings are immediately lovable: notable are Gilbert's "Inner Children," a mostly white painting on canvas punctuated by eccentric line drawings, and Pennington's moody "Box #24," a painting on a wooden box of earthy green and brown, intersected by a vertical orange flame. But for those of us used to today's noisier art, some of their low-key abstracts demand a little more effort. "Nurturing," a mostly blue painting by Gilbert, is the kind of abstraction that's so tranquil it borders on somnolence. A Bisbee artist, Gilbert has been showing in the Southwest since the 1960s, but he lived and exhibited in New York City in the 1950s, in the days when Abstract Expressionism was king. A lot of Abstract Expressionist work thrills by the vigor of its brushstrokes and its bright colors, but Gilbert stays away even from those kinds of pyrotechnics.

Instead, in this painting, he sticks to a faded blue-jeans blue, a restful color that pretty much covers the canvas. It's the kind of self-effacing painting you're likely to pass right by, but that would be a mistake. When you look closely, you find that Gilbert here and there puddles up his blue into interesting textural bumps or squeezes it into small squiggles that dart across the canvas. Tiny lines of color, flashpoints of orange and lime, shoot through the blue. The lines and the bumps force the eye around, creating a movement in a work that initially seems completely still.

The funny thing about abstract art is that it's almost impossible to talk about without imposing a story on it. Gilbert himself, devout abstractionist that he is, even hints at stories in his paintings, partly by his evocative titles, partly by the scratchy drawings he etches into the paint. "Inner Children," for instance, contains quirky, nervous drawings that suggest mechanical, man-made shapes, flying machines and aeroplanes looping in the sky. And hints of red and pink and blue glowing underneath its all-pervasive white suggest a sky at dawn.

Sky comes up again in "Nurturing," the plain blue painting. This work makes me think of the flat blue sky during the workaday hours of the day, when the blue expanse is unmarked by the blazes of sunrise or sunset. In fact, abstraction often suggests nature imagery. It may be because we're so inextricably a part of the world around us that the "abstract" shapes artists create are unconscious renderings of what they see in nature.

Gilbert's engaging little collages unabashedly delve into nature, by making use of nature's materials. Abstraction may not exactly be trendy at the moment, but Gilbert is up-to-the-minute with the found objects he uses in his collages: dried-up rosebuds, paper weathered by the elements, strings and discarded bits of drawing paper. "Sheltering" is a small gem, a collage on light brown drawing paper--or is it a grocery bag?--sprinkled with rose petals and raffia, and intersected by a curving string. Even if it does suggest an earth and sky, no matter. The best part about this work, and his other little collages, is clean, clear composition, and arresting shapes and colors. The story, if there is one, doesn't even matter.

Paintings and collages by Herb Gilbert and David Pennington continue on view through May 27 at the Davis Dominguez Gallery, 6812 N. Oracle. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information call 297-1427.

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May 11 - May 17, 1995

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