Melinda Hackett's stunning current exhibition of abstract watercolors and oil paintings at Charles Cowles Gallery in Chelsea displays a mature body of work combining her unique vocabulary of images with her skills as a colorist. The visual presentation of the work in the space evokes a display of ancient manuscripts or tapestries, possibly suggested by the framing of the watercolors with grey mats and matching frames. Yet on closer observation, the work seems very hip and contemporary. The paintings simultaneously suggest the future and the past. They reference everything from the solar system to nature to pop art, with the circle acting as the main theme.
The eight medium-sized watercolors are playful and light and make full use of the uniqueness of the medium. The watercolors reveal an undersea world of interesting amoebas, plants and forms, but also could be "surreal" life observed under a microscope.
For me, the oil paintings are the most successful works and show Ms. Hackett's talent as a colorist. "Junebug" is a delicate and beautiful bluesy canvas that seems like a nice jazz song and relates well to the dreamy, drippy watercolors. "Stimulus One" contains circles, '60s imagery, pinwheels, and objects from a carnival that float over a blue background. My favorite is "Switchback," which contains very defined objects put forth in a determined manner with no hesitations or drips. It moves away from the brighter colors and employs browner tones, allowing the jewel-colored forms to really pop. Hackett creates depth and layers with intriguing objects going in and out of the work.
Her paintings work well with the sculptures of James Surls, which are also on view. They are of natural forms in a diverse range of materials; carved wood, bronze, stainless steel, and stone. The abstract, nature-inspired pieces are wall-based, freestanding, or hanging. I particularly liked "Standing Knife," "Pinion," and "Morning Glory," a ten-foot-tall knife whose tips stand in the floor, a tree and flower growing from its handle. It's a unique and visually stimulating piece with its mix of wood, bronze, and steel, yet it also seems to have some message for us. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but it's worth contemplating, along with the other works of Surls in the exhibit. - Margaret Roleke
Charles Cowles Gallery 537 West 24 St. New York, NY 10011
Exhibit runs through June 20 Additional large-scale sculptures by Surls have been installed on Park Avenue in New York through the summer.
Ms. Roleke is an artist whose work has been exhibited throughout the New York Tri-State region; she is also an independent curator.