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Color Them Retro

A new generation is dabbling in the discredited Color-field style.

August 16, 1998|David Pagel | David Pagel is a regular art reviewer for Calendar

"As a kid, I didn't care about who made what. I had no idea that art was a critique. For me, art was fun. In my own work I want to hold onto that. There's not enough time to do what you want to do anyway, so why use your energy to make someone else look bad?"

A similar sentiment drives Besemer's abstractions, which explicitly engage the works of the Color-field painters. Two years ago, the 41-year-old artist exhibited a stunning series of round paintings directly affixed to the gallery's walls. Made with a single 360-degree sweep of a specially designed compass-like squeegee, these acrylics combined the instantaneous impact of Color-field artist Kenneth Noland's target paintings with a Space Age optimism.

A new series of folded stripe paintings simultaneously reveals the fronts and the backs of each piece. Besemer, who earned her MFA at Tyler in 1983, explains, "I'm interested in color--in the ways it seems to permeate an object and to form its surface. I'm drawn to extreme colors because there's always more there than can be translated into words.

"In contrast to Pollock, who usually worked with muted tones, the Color-field painters really keyed things up. Their paintings--especially those by Morris Louis--have a plastic quality that interests me. Historically, the Color-field painters have been dismissed as loser-sissies because they embraced color so unapologetically. I think of my works as a way of bringing seriousness and pleasure back together."

Krebs' palette is even more synthetic than those of the Color-field painters are. Acidic yellows, luminous lime-greens and florescent oranges repeatedly pop up among luxuriant burgundies, deep greens and blazing blues. Although Krebs' canvases condense an impressive variety of wildly unnatural colors into a tight tonal range, she does not think of herself as a colorist.

"For me, color is never a goal or conclusion. I use color as a tool to generate experiences. I'm fascinated by the relationships between and among colors, and by the rhythms that get set up by their juxtaposition, arrangement and scale. Color opens a painting up. Its parameters are unbelievably wide."

Krebs, 44, who graduated from the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara in 1981, believes that color is often ignored by artists and critics because it so readily elicits personal associations. "With color, you're always fighting subjective interpretations. Of course, you can't get away from these references, but I want my paintings to keep your mind open as long as possible. To really see them, you have to be free of what you've seen and learned. Their unpredictable equilibrium proves that they're working."

Looking back on the past 20 years, Apfelbaum summarizes: "Back then, we were all embarrassed by Modernist painting. Now it's coming back. Today, it's almost OK to be a formalist.

"Five years ago you had to be socially transgressive. As an artist, you had to be scary to be taken seriously. Above all else, you were not supposed to like art. Now it's OK to like things again. For a while, we were scared away from our instincts. What's the matter with being smart and pretty at the same time?"

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