Monday, January 11, 2010

Life and the City

Michael Bartmann next to one of his paintings

Michael Bartmann’s paintings at Rosenfeld Gallery this month reflect an ongoing interest in the architectural side-stories of modern urban landscape. These industrial spaces are often views of underpasses, or views from inside abandoned factories that open somehow. Both sorts of views share the idea that a wall both interrupts and opens to another space. In some cases his paint examines a wall as a means to express a certain slice of space itself.

His method of layering paint creates enigmatic distances punctuated by scratchings, scrapings, or thickly applied pigment. Amid the overall earth tone of these powerful yet quiet pieces there is a nice sense of color work, which leads one toward the light of day in some area of the painting.

This seems to confront an oppressive notion of confinement with release. The architectural element often presents us with a sort of Platonic ideal, which the overall tone and color work also seem to debate. Is this beautiful, or sublime? Is a repeating pattern of daylight cast in receding perspective depressing, or does the change in that light promise release and redemption?

In most cases the paintings also remind us of the structure of space, of how it outlasts usefulness, of how a sort of enigma remains behind in our midst capable of evoking the mathematical sublime. As sea shells have a beauty that outlasts their lives, these parts of a city have the noble imprint of some mighty purpose, capable of Roman arches, straight edges, and a function ultimately given over to transparency. What we are reminded of in the end is how daylight reclaims the man-made shadows of these constructions, as water does the confines of a shell.

Also on view are Thamer Dawood Sudani’s colorful abstractions that seem to narrate life force as a light filled with incipient symbols, language, and lamp-like exuberance. His family’s story of escape from Iraq gives these hopeful canvases a particular poignancy and heroism. They speak to the question of the invincible human spirit. Only one piece seems able to afford to place this exhilaration in the context of what must have been lost, but, in their way, both artists here deal with what can be dealt with in the appropriate timeline of their experience. In both cases we are surprised at the phenomenon of expression and experience, and moved by the power of the imagination to focus that experience at its most vital and necessary questions.

Until January 31, 2010

Michael Bartmann and Thamer Dawood Sudani at
Rosenfeld Gallery
113 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
215 922 1376