The Representational Abstractions of Louise P. Sloane

Louise P. Sloane began her career as a non –representational artist and, indeed, the first impression of her paintings is that of rich, comber colors, dense, distressed surfaces and moderate to small rectangular shapes of either wood or fiberglass panel or canvas. Now, however, Sloane admits that she anchors her abstractions in a narrative as a way for her – and the viewer- to begin, as means of construction or a psychological scaffold. Nonetheless, the works must still be assessed retinally as material and process; it does not necessarily depend upon the story which the viewer may or may not know, may or may not be interested in decoding.. Whatever the imagery means to the viewer is acceptable to the artist as parallel to her own specific references, a point of view that she believes expands the domain of the works and makes it permeable, allowing the viewer to interject his or her own experiences. Sloane controls the forma but is liberal about the content; at best, the interaction results in a collaboration between artist and audience that constantly refreshes the work. “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, for instance, comes in three versions, white, red and grey with different imagery that refers to, respectively, the inscriptions of what was conjectured to be Jesus’s brother’s tomb, the arc and disintegrations of the Columbia space shuttle and Saddam Hussein’s compound, where the weapons of mass destruction were thought to be hidden. It can be read as pure abstraction, a series of marks, geometric shapes, patterns, colors, but it can also be read for the artist’s intent. “JR is a Woman”, a deep gun-metal grey field enclosing a centered, bisected rectangle of even darker grey with a sketchy, barely visible figure on one side, is based on a newspaper image of Janet Reno peering around a door while the moody “Collective Sorrow” is revealed to be Sloane’s “September 11th painting – “every artist has a September 11th work,” she says. Consisting of a pepper and salt colored grid, its small, nubby squares are created by painting numbers over each other, again and again, until all of the almost 3,000 victims of the World Trade Center had been registered; in the center is a circle within a square, as if sighted in the cross hairs of a weapon, literally ground zero.

The approximately 18 paintings in this exhibition were made between 1999 – 2003. The handsome “Harmony In The House of Fire and Water” is the most recent and largest, a 4-panel polyptych measuring 52 x 52 inches, dimensions which are part of its secret subject in four different, saturated reds that are extremely close in hue and value. Often Sloane’s compositions are centralized, with a circle in the center that might resemble a target or a rectangle that recalls a book or a torah, the surfaces blistered or buttered, opaque or glowing, woven like textiles, cut, incises or laced together, as if sewn. Sloane expertly. Gleefully employs kitchen implements when needed such as pastry tubes to draw lines and filigree her fields. Often, the overall appearance can be architectural, but softened by seemingly Baroque or Islamic flourishes. Sloane generously layers her colors, sometimes applying as many as forty coats and her palette ranges from oxblood reds, maroons, carnelians, burnt oranges, sour yellows, midnight blues, royal purples, blacks, greys and chalky, bone whites. Sloane builds up her work with molding paste and uses pure pigments, tube colors and house paints. The layers can be cut and peeled away as if they were added on, like collage. She sometimes still uses beeswax for the seductiveness of its luster and luxuriousness of its surface but, of late, finds it almost too alluring.

Sloane’s artis that of the hand for the eye an, though not incidentially, the story is still an added value, intertwined with the materiality of her paintings, another interpretation of the current reconciliation between abstraction and representation, between modernism’s pure object and postmodernist narrative.

Lilly Wei 2004