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Critics’ Picks: Alex Kwartler and Elke Solomon

By Ryan Steadman

June 12, 2013


Alex Kwartler and Elke Solomon’s first mother-and-son exhibition of their individual and collaborative works is a multigenerational ode to light, the latest from a long pedigree of Western artists obsessed with the subject. Like the first modern master of light, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, both of these artists echo the mysteries of the natural world within their work, while also sharing Renoir’s jubilant engagement with daily life.

Kwartler emits this joy through his deceptively simple series of pigmented plaster-on-plywood paintings, which lean gently against the walls like common lumber. The immediacy of his brush marks, which dry rapidly on the wet plaster, offer a visceral sense of motion, as gray, purple, and green brushstrokes bump, careen, and crash into each other like forces of nature. This effect, made even more seductive by being buffed to a soft sheen, conjures a thunderstorm, a rolling field, or backlit clouds with breathtaking evocation that is rare for pure abstraction. Compared to Kwartler’s two-dimensional panels, the elder Solomon’s hanging light sculptures feel more literal, thanks to their use of cheap 99-cent store materials such as fake decorative flowers and plastic jewelry, yet they offer up a similar brand of transformation. Through her unusual juxtapositions and installations (all of the works are hung at varying levels above head height), Solomon reignites her kitsch materials with the transcendent beauty that originally inspired these trinkets.

Considering Solomon and Kwartler’s shared affinities, it is unsurprising that their collaborative collage paintings work so well. Shreds of photographs, all of which were taken during a screening of the movie Renoir, 2013, dance across the surface of these small painted panels. Despite their simple two-step process, the works include a remarkable variety of paint handling and compositional moves. One untitled panel features fragments of classical nude imagery nestled inside a dark, spiraling vortex. It’s a lovely and vexing picture that glows with corporeal magic. This work—the entire show in fact—reminds us that even in a throwaway society the artist will always find a way to pay homage to nature and beauty.