September 1, 2008

Painting's Not Dead yet: James Wrayge

The abstract paintings of James Wrayge, in the most recent show at the Rosalux Gallery, are definitely worth checking out. The heavy influence of Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionism, heavy influences of some of the great American artists such as Rauschenberg, Johns, Motherwell, and Rothko, and suggestions of Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell, seem clearly evident in Wrayge’s palette, his execution of the painting, and in his intellectual and aesthetic commitment to composition. These paintings demonstrate a deep knowledge and understanding of modern abstract painting, perspective, composition, and color theory. I really loved this show and this work. Two artists are showing in the gallery space: James Wrayge and Daniel Buettner. Here I want to focus just on the work of James Wrayge. My focus is not to in any way demean or diminish the work of Buettner, but rather to focus my vision on one artist rather than the two. Also, their work, while complimentary as an ensemble, is quite different and distinct from the other’s work.

James Wrayge is a painter’s painter. His compositions and use of color, brush stroke, line, form, plane, shape, light/shadow, and motion are pleasing and delightful. The titles evoke an essential idea and create a context for the viewer, invoking a sort of point of departure. While some are clearly abstract with no entry into specific content or figurative matter (aside from the title), many evoke a sense of landscape and still life [nature mort]. In talking to the gallery attendant about the artist, I learned that he often works much larger than the paintings that are displayed in this show. He [the attendant] thought that perhaps it was because it is James’ most current work, but then he stepped back, stating that “he has a lot of larger paintings he’s working on in his studio.? My feeling is that these particular pieces that he has selected seem to be to an ideal scale in this space, which I might add, if you haven’t been to, is a beautiful and well-crafted gallery space with wonderful light, natural wood, and exposed brick, enhanced by clean white walls. The space is widely open and expands into the space of the coffee adjacent cafe. With three nice sized levels, the bottom floor has an attached gallery called "The Pocket Gallery" which currently shows printmaking from folks at the U of M.

Continuing with commentary on the scale of Wrayge's paintings-- there is one medium sized piece on the third floor of the gallery, but most are, if I remember correctly, in the 24? x 24? format. As such they are like windows to view through and reflect upon the contents in the frame. They are digestible and contained in the mind's eye. The restraint of the size prevents the observer from journeying into a larger more expansive spatio-temporal body experience and keeps it more heady and visual than interactively experiential with a human body size scale. The color palette tends to monochromatic, but delightfully breaks out of that with just enough in expansions of geometric or planes of color, at times just exploding out of the contrast of monochrome with pure color saturation. There is a complexity of the layering, and many intricate surprises and delicate detail of line, color, and combinations that lie in waiting for the trained abstract eye. The main color palette components seem to be whites, grays, black, cobalt and navy blues, with a loving attachment for oranges, peaches, reds, rusts, and corals. I have to say I loved all of these paintings. There was not one that was unfinished, inferior, or that I did not care for. I think my favorite might be “Pelican Blind,? though I really loved “Wabash Nichol Plate?, “CSX?, “Utah?, “Stoke?, and “Freight- yard.?

I encourage anyone who hasn’t been there to check it out. I took some photos of his work which I will try to download to the blog sometime soon.