For the Love of Pure Color
The bold, brilliant paintings that are Louise P. Sloane’s newest work are the culmination of more than a decade-long shift from the muted tones and abundant imagery that characterized her earlier endeavors. Even those paintings had started out with a great deal of color, Sloane confessed, but she toned them down, afraid of their brightness. Several years ago, however, another artist, Richard Anuszkiewicz, teased her about her fear of flamboyance and told her it was time to get over it if she really wanted to work with color. That comment had an impact as evidenced by these high-voltage results.
The paintings are now extremely concentrated, less discursive than in the past and zoom in on form, color and texture with more or less equal intensity. The formats are all verticals, off-square by a few inches for lift, and the compositions are quite straightforward but despite that, or because of that directness, that visual simplicity, they pack an enormous punch right between the eyes. Divided into four quadrants that frame a central square, the eye is drawn immediately to it as if to the center of a target—the “instant communication” that the artist strives for. Only then does the viewer begin to parse the whole. Sloane’s paintings recall Albers’ well-known color studies, Color Field painting and the geometric abstractions of the 1970s, all sources that have influenced her although her concerns are as expressive as they are formal.
The color is applied to what is usually an aluminum surface these days, the support constructed so that the paintings hang slightly away from the wall. The color at the edges then reflects onto the wall and is returned as a kind of circumscribing aura. Sloane uses color straight-up, without mixing. The mixing takes place on the painting itself, optically, as one color reacts to the other, a red against a green, say, or a blue against an orange. The colors are not always complementary. She might pair a blue against a near shade of another blue, or a family of reds with each other as in LRBS or The Mighty Atom. The titles are mostly descriptive (OOCBT, VVPPO for instance, the letters standing for hues) and trumpet Sloane’s newfound ease with blasts of full-bodied color. She has also been accentuating the paintings’ negative space.
The juxtapositions of color can act as a contrasting outline around a quadrant or square and give off a flash of light, a shimmer, where they meet. But each section is a complex sequence of hues from the ground up, reverberating with hidden shades, the topmost layer the sum of what lies beneath. The surface also holds Sloane’s signature extrusions (she’s a whiz with a pastry tube). The squiggles of text add an additional color note and level of signification. Painstakingly written and overwritten, Sloane’s inscribed text, deeply meaningful to her, is a form of private meditation; in this series, it uses the short stories written by her late parents. Turned into relief, it creates a raised pattern that is illegible when she is finished, painting the borders a contrasting color to accentuate the irregularity of the text’s profile and to energize the painting’s edges. She wants the response to be based on the text’s physicality and color, not its meaning.
From the beginning, Sloane has depended upon personal narratives and writings to help her get started, provide the pulse of the painting, and to “keep me going” but it is not necessary that the viewer knows the specifics in order to respond to the work. Sloane treats narrative more as process than content, the narrative ultimately becoming an ambience that pervades the formal, its presence and meaning to be intuited—or not, a situation Sloane prefers.
Not quite done, she then goes back in with a zero brush as the last step, and very slowly, very carefully, adjusts the color, adding what will be read as highlights, as more luminosity. “Very obsessive,” she admits, “but as an artist, I’m driven by a vision that I need to realize.”
Lilly Wei is a New York-based art critic and independent curator.