Contributed by Margaret McCann / Stylistic affinities hold the paintings of Cathy Diamond and Laurie Fader in “Luscious Wasteland” at Radiator Gallery in amicable rapport, before differences in sensibility emerge. Each painter mines the legacies of German Expressionism and American Abstract Expressionism, among other influences, as confident and direct impulses draw on banks of personal experience. Diamond’s airy but compact Woods in Vermont could have been painted from observation, but reads as an excited engagement with Modernist painting vocabulary more than with motif. Its accrual of rough yet precisely individual marks quickly bunches together. Our eyes dart around its prismatic surface, echoing how one might, in such a dappled thicket, quickly survey a way around the center bottom bramble to reach light.
A shape language akin to the angular, searching one of Clyfford Still appears in Totem, but while his awkwardness creates poetic hesitation, Diamond’s energetic moves quash doubt. Her steady, repetitive delivery of jagged biomorphic structures conveys dependability. The swift, coordinated rhythms that contest flat, static shapes are reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s earlier work, where gesture, rather than chance drips, manipulates form. Emotional distance spreads through an overall greenness that suggests nature’s amplitude and inscrutable designs.
Diamond’s shapes overcome their internal struggles, finding strength in bigger networks. Despite its uneasy title, Missing Persons ultimately pleases. Its frenzied knots of black and white figures (search parties at a shoreline?) could have jumped out of a Willem de Kooning painting. Resemblance to cloud forms above sparks their formal interplay. A cavorting clockwise motion relaxes, as does the painting’s calming color harmony. A variety of horizontal bands of marks scuttling across the surface remind us of the painter’s fencing-like brushwork and lively approach to experimentation.
Dune is as forceful as it is equivocal, its zig-zagging Ernst Ludwig Kircher-like forms meshing into an enigma that invites free association. From the beach-grass below we may be looking up at a hill, where yellow greens emerge from a spiky cluster to hover above a turquoise (a reference to the shrinking water supply in the novel Dune?). Or we might be atop it looking down at an animal trap, perhaps caging a mighty whale carcass, or even at a mirage of a medieval city (I am reminded of Lorenzetti’s “City by the Sea”). Bolstered by bold tones, a range of saturated warm and cool reds and greens foster a richness that subverts the distress that Francis Bacon’s similarly thorny forms can convey. We are given a sharp, radiant vision of something beyond understanding.
Laurie Fader’s mysterious, epic World View, reminiscent of Oscar Kokoschka’s vistas, doesn’t paint a pretty macro picture. While deep space is clearly conveyed, its occupants and their relation to one another is ambiguous. The bold shifts in tone in its theatrical El Greco sky, along with lush but unruly splashes of color, advance a dynamic decay. Forms disintegrate in the process of declaring their identities, as pictorial weight cramps the foreground. There might be an entrance to hell somewhere here, yet there is something glorious in the picture’s apocalyptic zeal.
Like a Charles Burchfield painting on acid, the buoyant yellow field of Fader’s Beyond sets the stage for daffy levity that masks edgy undertones. Abstract patterns become rocks that sprout goofy heads, tendrils flower into Boschian body parts. Weighted at the bottom, Fader’s paintings can invoke an ineluctable gravity which objects above attempt but fail to defy. Here, strange and charming plants aspire upward to meet discouraging conditions; the bright orange at the top of the painting feels promising until one notices a figure nearby giving in to the abyss, amid unkempt textures and a general disorder.
Looking Back returns to the dark. Variegated remains of some larger whole pile up, but slowly sink into layers of future sedimentation. The claustrophobic descent is relieved by varieties of exuberant pinks, vivacious reds, and soothing purples that spring like flowers from a dump. They push space back and forth, before and behind the picture plane, shaking things up. Attention to detail – for instance, her carefully articulated overlapping – express intimate involvement. The way personal rubble becomes satisfying aesthetic permanence echoes Arshile Gorky’s transmutations of painful difficulty into beautiful complexity.
Oil paint’s flexibility, its ease of blending, encourages transformation and Fader’s surrealist tendencies. Warrior Women veils a cynical and playful humor reminiscent of James Ensor. Thetriumphant title is in ironic relation to an ungainly troupe of cubistic females trekking across the unstable but adventurous realm. The figure on the left, her skull turned toward us, welcomes us rightward with a sweeping gesture, while her youthfully delicate and attentive tiptoes express trepidation towards the rocky ground. The next contender has a floral headdress and a sexy gait despite lacking arms, her upbeat bearing mirrored in the cheerful green tree between her and the next one, out of shape and arms flailing like a disoriented Duchamp figure. A portly, mature female cautiously leads the pack, and comes across bright pink spots that may bloom into yet another in this line of adaptable women. Flying forms above might be cherubs, monkeys, or planes, whether vigilant or provocative is uncertain. The emotional spectrum tracks that of Philip Guston. Luminous light is anchored by serious tonal contrasts and surprising pops of saturation; complementary violets accentuate the warm ambience of this happy, sad, funny journey.
While a lot of contemporary painting looks like executions of thoughtful plans, this show reflects a more fundamentally romantic approach to the craft. Longer experience fuels and loads these painters’ brushes, while vigorous contact with the surface drives the generation of imagery. Relations of form and content evolve through process, an imbedded history then enjoyed by the viewer. Diamond’s balanced, formal address quells agitation toward equilibrium. Fader’s earthier scapes, more elevation than plan, move us back into space while descending into unsettling psychological terrain. The work of both painters expresses creative flourishing.
“Luscious Wasteland: Cathy Diamond and Laurie Fader,” curated by Patrick Neal. Radiator Gallery, 10-61 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY. Through October 23, 2022.
About the author: Painter and arts writer Margaret McCann teaches at the Art Students League.