Three Painting Shows
by Simon Smith

Lois Dodd - Outside In: Recent Small Panels - Alexandre Gallery
Dodd is among the greatest American painters of direct observation. She earns such a distinction not only for her playfully virtuoso paint handling and eye for color, but also for her selection of subjects. For a painter like Dodd, the "what" and "how" of painting are inseparable; the paintings are successful in part because she's good at identifying subjects that would make for a good Lois Dodd painting. Dodd sees the world abstractly; honed over decades of looking, her eye instinctively discerns patterns and geometries in the everyday. These small paintings, mostly totemic treatments of single forms, highlight her facility for accentuating those rhythms through precise framing. Working on masonite, Dodd chooses panels of specific shapes to bring out the formal essence of her chosen subjects. Split Log, my favorite painting in the show, functions as a meditation on longness (logness?) with its skinny vertical panel. Ditto for Fallen Dry Leaf and crumpledness, or Birch Bark's specific, jagged shapedness, something like Johns' cartographic outlining in works from the Green Angel or Regrets series. Sometimes Dodd's chosen objects take on an odd anthropomorphism, as in Sycamore Seed Head, where a seed pod, enlarged to the size of a coconut, starts to look like a furrowed face sprouting bird-like plumage. The few landscapes included in the show are just as concise and singular: through her lively application and careful positioning of forms within the edges of the rectangle, Dodd makes paintings that at once evoke precise conditions of light and season, and appear as unexpected abstract apparitions.

Harriet Korman - Portraits of Squares - Thomas Erben Gallery
All of these paintings employ the same few variables, combining stripes, rectangles, and squares, sometimes concentric, sometimes broken down into four isosceles triangles. The concentric rectangles recall Albers' Homage to a Square series, but there is enough variation in structure between the paintings (none have the exact same composition) that they can't be viewed simply as Albersian color studies. Korman understands the way a block of color can shift the weight and balance of a painting, like Mondrian, but the comparison mostly ends there. There is no pretension of purity in Korman's paintings; her geometry is slightly wonky and her palette of earthy mid-tones verges on the atmospheric. It is a warm and cozy palette, like an old reading room with dark wood cladding and green banker's lamps. Korman hits a sweet spot with this body of work: because of the compositional and coloristic subtlety between canvases employing the same pared down vocabulary, the paintings are closely conversant with one another, but the group can't be summed up into an iterative whole. Rather, Korman enables a hyperawareness of how small variations between paintings (grids of squares with and without outlines, absence or presence of bright yellow) project different types of space and logic. Within a given painting, little inconsistencies and breaks in the system take on satisfying resonance.

Alex Bradley Cohen - Public Works - Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
Cohen melds scenes into amalgamated compositions in these paintings, conveying multifaceted aspects of quotidian reality: the coexistence of public and private space, the intertwining of municipal systems. Most enigmatic of the bunch is The Great Skate Escape, in which Cohen combines two successive passages: a woman skating on a half-pipe at a park, and the same woman (she wears the same yellow hat and purple pants) driving a car. Cohen cleverly integrates these two sections—the curve of the halfpipe becomes the back-end of the car, and the sky above the park flows into the car's interior. The darker sky from the skatepark scene frames the brighter sky seen through the car windows, suggesting two times of day at once. The other paintings employ strategies of simultaneity to somewhat more coherent narrative ends, such as highlighting the subjectivity of concessions workers at a baseball game, or showing the inside and outside of an ambulance. Cohen's intentions in The Great Skate Escape are more ambiguous. Is the painting an ode to the car and the road that transport the woman to the park? Or perhaps an ode to wheels more broadly, cheekily drawing attention to the odd symmetry of riding a car to a park where one will ride a skateboard, a different form of wheeled conveyance? The stance toward her subject is unclear.
I'm reminded of Kyoko Idetsu's paintings from her show last year at Bridget Donahue. Both are painters that build their compositions through the synthesis of distinct vignettes to get at a kind of complexity—in Idetsu's case a psychological complexity in which experiences are informed by feeling and memory, and for Cohen the complexity of living within and between infrastructural systems. Both treat quotidian subject matter with a deadpan matter-of-factness, utterly earnest yet devoid of sentimentality. Shunning topicality and stylishness, these painters focus on inventiveness of construction. As such, the paintings function as slippery contemplative propositions, drawing attention to elusive aspects of time and space.