Jo Baer, James Bishop, Suzan Frecon

Lawrence Markey, San Antonio

Closed October 16
by Wendy Atwell

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      Jo Baer
      Gouache and ink on paper
      5 x 5 inches
      Courtesy Lawrence Markey, Inc.

      View Gallery

      Relics still draw the faithful to their temples. A relic’s power lies in its alleged link to the past and the sanctity bestowed upon it by faith’s mysticism.

      Artworks by Jo Baer, James Bishop and Suzan Frecon, painters who have been associated with the Minimalist, French Support/Surface and Abstract Expressionist movements, respectively, possess an analogous power. At Lawrence Markey Gallery, a show of small scale, quiet works by these three artists reawakens formalism’s potency, rigor and thoughtfulness. This art’s power resides in its physical presence. Like relics, these subtle works on paper must be viewed in person.

      Art lies between science and religion; it relies upon a system of knowledge yet it is fraught with allegiances and belief systems. Viewing these works feels like a scientific exercise that requires a visual dissection of artistic choices that, because of aura and scale, do not translate via photographic reproduction.

      In small gouache and ink on paper pieces from 1962, Baer studies the act of rendering space. Bridges and tracks, in various orientations, are painted in light blue and black on regular notebook paper cut into 5 by 5 inch squares. Baer inks over the blue lines with a brilliant red, and she uses these lines a field in which to play with the concepts of two-dimensionality and perspective. The horizontal red lines reinforce the surface’s two-dimensionality, yet in Baer’s three images of suspension bridges, for example, the cables appear to extend out into space and then retreat away almost magically. Baer leaves breaks in the forms of the some of the bridges’ towers, an effect that allows the black lines of the cables to play between and through the spaces of the red lines, creating visual conundrums.

      In three small paintings on light brown paper, Bishop draws geometrical forms with red pencil on white oil paint. These paintings, from the artist’s Tuscan Series, are undated but Markey suggests that the artist made them in the late 60s or early 70s. The paper’s surface is revealed slightly along the painting’s edges and shows through sometimes around the red line drawings, so that it becomes part of the image. These works, exercises in restraint and discipline, are also evocative; Bishop’s subtle traces fade into the painting’s surface like the memory of the red-ochre drawing under a fresco’s surface.

      In comparison to the very controlled spaces of Baer and Bishop, Frecon’s watercolors, painted on “found” paper, appear lush. Yet Frecon, too, remains engaged in a controlled study, in her case, of color. The paper surface holds the paint as if it were a glass slide containing a smear of specimen. In these five long rectangular pieces, all from 2008, the color’s intensity belies its medium. The paintings crave light so that they may absorb it and reveal the colors’ depth. In Forbidden Purple Enclosure, the paint is so dark the color nearly loses itself to its darkness, yet its sumptuousness holds the viewer there to gaze at the paint’s intensity upon the iridescent, subtly glittering Japanese handmade paper.

      In comparison with contemporary art’s incorporation of waste and debris, this show allows for a contemplative, peaceful break. Formalism and abstraction remain a foundational touchstone, the God-head from which it all came.

      Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.


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