On Some Faraway Beach

Liz Markus: The Look of Love
Zieher Smith
Through March 17, 2012

Color, like scent, is one of the most powerful triggers of memory. The smell of cinnamon or nutmeg brings us back to our childhood kitchens, sweetly reminiscent, like something Mother used to bake. Or a signature perfume reminds us of a first fuck. Liz Markus uses color to tap into our collective memories, evoking the hues of time -- period colors: Seventies Polaroids, Eighties adverts, and the lurid tints of souvenir postcards. In the past her work used color as a weapon -- a blunt, punk-rockers attempt at identity. The paintings in The Look of Love show Markus all grown up, referencing a complex history of Modernism and Color Field painting.

In "Leaving My Best Friend" (2012), dark palm trees sway, backlit, as if viewed from a beach chair in Margaritaville. Roy G. Biv rainbows of color are washed across the scene, reminding us that we are gazing at a work of fiction. Meta-painting on one level; a nod to how contingent our grasp on nature has become on another. These beaches may be scenes from Paradise, or one of the BP oil-slicked beaches of the Gulf Coast. Vivid purples and oranges dominate, but it is the deftly jotted palms that hold our attention -- almost Sumi-e-like in their execution. What at first glance may appear to be A rebours (à la Huysmans) is in fact more in keeping with Jackson Pollock’s statement "I am Nature."

"I Say a Little Prayer for You" (2012 [above]) and "When You’re Shattered" (2012) are paintings of a different order altogether. These stained, washy, earth-toned landscapes show Markus reclaiming the territory once held by the late Helen Frankenthaler. These works drop some of the reserve of her more ironic past and show her taking on the styles of her artistic heroes (such as Morris Louis or Jules Olitski) head-on. Her style, bold and forthright, evokes something of Van Gogh, who created landscapes that were also imbued with a sense of passion. His shifting perspectives and slashing brushstrokes, like Markus’s splashy puddles of pigment, privileged expression over representation. In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh wrote, "A painter does better to start from the colors on his palette than to start from Nature...you must set it down at once and then leave it alone...paint in one rush, as much as possible, in one rush...the ideal is to paint ‘comme le lion qui dévore le morceau.'" Markus brings a lived sense of place to these works, despite their improbable sources. She injects poetry back into paint.

In an 1872 essay on contemporary poetry, the philosopher Hyppolyte Taine might have been describing these watery works: "Trust the spirit, as Nature does, to make the form; for otherwise we only imprison the spirit, and not embody it. Inward evermore to outward -- so in life, and so in art, which is still life.... Poetry, thus conceived, has only one protagonist, the soul and mind of the poet; and only one style -- a suffering and triumphant cry from the heart." - Bradley Rubenstein

Zieher Smith is at 516 West 20th Street, New York, New York.

Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.

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