Gallery shows

Seductive non-objectives at Mother

Mother is located in an old automotive garage. Installation view. Left: Mariah Dekkenga, right: Rico Gatson

Contributed by Sharon Butler / I’ve always thought of non-objective art as an especially challenging type of abstraction that doesn’t rely on a visual relationship to the world for meaning. Rather, it conveys meaning through metaphor, material choices, and processes. Sometimes text is incorporated, and, in painting, color and compositional selections play important roles. But the underlying ideas are equally important. Non-objective artists like to mull and ruminate, creating work that gives the viewer something to not only experience but also to think about. In “I am the Passenger” a two-part group show at Mother Gallery in Beacon, NY, artist-curators Paola Oxoa, Trudy Benson, and Russell Tyler articulate two key aspects of non-objective approaches. One is the relationship that non-objective art has with the body – sight, touch, and proximity. The second is the mysterious ability of materials – through texture, shape, and color – to “stir something” that is both personal and universal, as the stars and the sky do in the passenger of Iggy Pop’s eponymous song. The work in the second part of the project, now on view, focuses on this uncanny allure.

Russell Tyler, DRSO, 2023, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches
Mariah Dekkenga, Untitled, 2022 oil on linen, 40 x 30 inches

Russell Tyler is known for his limited-palette abstractions that riff on earlier artists like Josef Albers and Mark Rothko. His composition, which looks like an enlarged section of an Illustrator object or a detail from a larger piece, perhaps by an admired master. Unlike the thick, all-over brushwork of Mariah Dekkenga’s piece, Tyler’s paint application varies by shape. Some areas feature strokes made with a wide, fully loaded brush, stressing a range of material choices that seem to urge viewers to touch the surface. On top of the texture, Dekkenga, long interested in computer-generated imagery and digital processes, paints a design that conjures a Cubist-Dada object-space, with abundant illusions of light and shadow. The painted shape playfully echoes the edges of the shaped support.

Seth Cameron, I Can’t Tell You Why (The Long Run), 2023, watercolor on paper mounted on panel, 24 x 18 inches

Seth Cameron’s work relies on time, proximity, and vision. If at first you don’t see anything but a deep purple monochrome, move closer and keep looking. Interesting details emerge.

Susan Weil, Yellow Soft Circle, 1990, acrylic, graphite, grommets on canvas, 41 x 41 x 2 inches
Lisa Beck Background Radiation II, 2022 acrylic, burlap, foil, and found objects on canvas 60 x 36 inches
Paola Oxoa, Attention, 2023, Acryla-gouache on canvas over panel 6 x 8 inches

Susan Weil’s “Yellow Soft Circle,” from 1990, is a paradox. The playfully shaped yellow canvas appears soft and floppy like a crumpled, oversize sun hat, but in reality it’s crafted from a stiffened circle of canvas. This is one of many pieces Weil has made over the years that explore the plasticity of time and space through shaped and folded compositions.

Lisa Beck also has an enduring fascination with things so infinitely big and faraway, or vanishingly small, that we can’t fully comprehend them. The circular form – subsuming atoms, dots, spheres, voids, cells, stars – is her motif, from the smallest to the largest entity, and especially those that raise knotty questions. Her piece in “I am the Passenger” has a loose overlay of burlap, adding a physical grid – something materially concrete and yet also achingly provisional. 

Paola Oxoa‘s tiny canvas seems like a visualization of energy rays as they expand — over time and through space. I wonder what Weil, Beck, and Oxoa will make of news reports that gravitational waves, possibly the result of black holes, detected ten billion light-years away, are generating ripples in space-time?

Stacy Fisher, Untitled, 2023, oil on wood, 13 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches

For many years, Stacy Fisher was known for making lovable, wonky painted sculptures. Then, during the pandemic, she began making diminutive paintings. The result has been an ongoing body of small-panel pieces that present geometric forms and organic shape with evocative color. Her work, which often incorporates small wooden pieces fastened to the surface, is a prime example of non-objective art that we don’t quite understand but for some reason find irresistible.

Rico Gatson Untitled (Spectral Visions), 2022, acrylic paint and glitter on wood, 36 x 80 inches

Rico Gatson is all about polyrhythmic geometric patterns that seem to pulsate with energy like music. His work has a pronounced and immediate galvanic effect, but it remains difficult to ascertain exactly why.

Trudy Benson Tingle, 2023, acrylic and oil on canvas, 32 x 37 inches

Tracy Benson’s paintings have always been a lot of fun, using a visual vocabulary she developed from working with early painting software. As she moves playfully between the screen and the surface of the canvas, she nurtures tactile sensations that are only possible with paint.

As the curators propose, non-objective painters intuitively understand that abstract paintings have ineffable capacities to stimulate the senses. It could be characterized as an ability to seduce. In his 2001 book The Art of Seduction, business writer Robert Greene broke the quality into nine somewhat corny but purposefully evocative types: the Siren, the Rake, the Ideal Lover, the Dandy, the Natural, the Coquette, the Charmer, the Charismatic, the Star, and the anti-seducer. As I was considering the work in “I am the Passenger,” I realized that paintings, with a little imagination, fall into similar categories. Representational painters can rely on subject matter and overt narrative to seduce, but non-objective painters must reach viewers first through their bodies, and later through their intellect. In Greene’s analysis, the viewer might be the quarry. Iggy, of course, would simply rejoice.

Mother Gallery: I AM THE PASSENGER, Part II, 2023, Installation View

“I AM THE PASSENGER, Part II,” curated by Paola Oxoa, Trudy Benson, and Russell Tyler.  Artists include Lisa Beck, Trudy Benson, Seth Cameron, Mariah Dekkenga, Stacy Fisher, Rico Gatson, Paola Oxoa, Russell Tyler, Susan Weil. Mother Gallery 1154 North Avenue, Beacon, NY. Through July 29, 2023.

About the author: Sharon Butler is a painter and the founder of Two Coats of Paint.


  1. Looks like a great show. One observation though. With 3 curators who are also 3 of the 9 artists in the show, it does make me wonder how much curating is happening – or why we still feel compelled to use this term?

  2. Good point Jon.
    I wonder if any will have a guston moment. And did Mondrian ever want to paint landscapes again? How much are we internally driven and how much are we following?

  3. Thank you for your essay, Sharon! Your thoughts and the images here make me want to see this show.

    I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to experience a non-objective painting in an a-historical vacuum. Because the eye is a strictly passive organ receiving a bombardment of sensations, experiencing anything requires the brain’s sorting mechanisms. Which is to say the pleasure we take in looking at any individual contemporary non-objective painting is affected to some degree or another by what we already know about non-objective painting in general.

    As for comments here about curators putting themselves in shows that they curate, I agree this raises questions about the purpose of a curator. An awful lot of artist-curated painting exhibitions now boil down to “Me and My Friends” rather than a selection of work by artists who share a philosophy of painting.

  4. Sharon / jimmy Murray out here in lowa / yeah just read ur recent post/ blog entree of the
    “passenger” show in the garage gallery. The entree paragraph was a really fine description of what ” non objective ” painting is-does-has the potential to exemplify !!
    So blithe in sentence by sentence descriptors, specially the first few sentences/ yet bullseye on the definition like summarily framed words!
    I suppose you being a painter who speaks
    The chops to deliver to other “Painter” speakers as well as the people learning the lingo is a skill you got your union card for/ Kudoes!
    Anyway my fave of the ones you showed?
    Probably the painting with the rectangles, sweet candy apple low fired glaze colors! Reminded me of the colors of the salt water taffy Atlantic City candies my granny would send us at Christmas /
    Best jimmy m

  5. Elizabeth Riggle

    The mention of Mondrian here in the comments tickles me…we’ll never know, he died younger than not, but oh how he loved to dance…and somehow, that’s part of appreciating this exhibition, as per the writing!

  6. Comments are as much fun as essay! Thanks all. Stephanie San Francisco

  7. I appreciate the use of Robert Greene, especially because it is corny. The description of how representational painters can rely on the subject matter and overt narrative to seduce and get attention, but non-objective painters must reach viewers first through their bodies and later through their intellect, is important; I am writing from Berlin, where history is somehow always present and not something that happened a while ago, especially because of the brilliant Stolpersteine that I pass numerous of every morning on my way to the studio. Materiality is important, and abstraction is important. It’s not a coincidence that only representational art was permitted here in the 1940s. Art is not always directly readable as political 1:1. I have always noticed that whenever a dictatorship falls, we see the tv footage of their abandoned palaces. The aesthetic is identical no matter where they are from: they all have an affinity for gold and figurative art that looks like airbrushed fantasy paintings. They all have these big-eyed women that look like those viral posters in the 80s and certainly no non-objective art. Doubt and mulling are important qualities and all over this exhibition. I wish I could see, see it.

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