Commentaries

Nancy Storrow's Uplifting Art at Catherine Dianich Gallery
By ARLENE DISTLER

The work included in Nancy Storrow's exhibition "Revisiting Bare Ground" at the Catherine Dianich Gallery, with the exception of two small sculptures, is two-dimensional pastel drawings on paper. Colors are of earth and sky -- elegantly gestural lines and swaths of peacock blue -- green, cobalt, wine red, umbers and black.


First shown this spring in Brooklyn, N.Y., at A.I.R. Gallery, where Storrow has been showing for 30 years, the work was executed over the past several years. I had seen the New York show, and while there was a lot of clean, white-walled openness, allowing for more sculpture, there is an intimacy in the Dianich space that is lovely for this group of work.


Storrow's comment about showing in both places: "In New York everything is about pushing boundaries. My work felt mild there. Here, it seems like my own intimacy with nature pushes the edges." The abstractness of Storrow's work, its delving into the energy of the natural world, more than reproducing the seen, can be challenging to viewers. But a challenge, in my view, that is richly rewarded. In allowing oneself to let go of the need to see what's known, one can enter into mystery. This, I believe, is Storrow's invitation to her viewers.


I love the triple -- quadruple -- entendre of the title Storrow has chosen for this show. The "ground" of a painting is the base, primary layer of a work. That is often sizing (gesso) or some other undercoating. In the case of Storrow's work, the pastel is laid on plain, bare paper. The artist, in her written statement uses the term "ground" as starting point: "Starting with the bare ground--as a place both of exploration and discovery, I work intuitively, connecting lines, colors, and forms." It would seem to refer as well to the rich earthy tones of the artist's palette -- (pastels are loosely ground pigment). For all the etherealness of many of the paintings, I had the feeling standing before some that I was looking below the earth at some elemental living thing, quivering in its dark earthen womb.


The denser earlier paintings, such as "Offshoot" had been in an earlier show titled "Bare Ground." Her work has changed over the past few years. From pod-like forms drawn by intersecting lines, or dense clouds of color and line that coalesce into matter, to the conjuring of a magnificent "lightness of being." Storrow says, "My work changes slowly. One thing follows another." The process itself is organic.


The most recent paintings have "taken off" from the earlier work. The marks have become fewer but are more evocative, hold more, emotionally and spatially. What Storrow has accomplished is akin to a jazz musician who no longer needs to play every note, whose pauses are as full and resonant as the chords.


There is a breathless, fluttering feeling to these newer paintings. "Some Songs" deserves its spot in a stand-alone placement across from the entrance to the gallery, framed in an alcove. Multiple "events," as Storrow calls them, hover. For me, these events have a being-ness; smaller versions of same, the "offspring" are attached by what seems like invisible cords. There is a music, quirky and atonal, and at the same time sweetly harmonic in the visual rhythms. "Beyond" and "Land," among my favorites in the show, are high-wire acts of mark making and color that are almost breathtaking in their delicacy and pulsating aliveness.


A graphic aspect of the paintings that I find particularly effective is the bands of deep or pale blue, wine red, umber or turquoise. They can be seen as stripes on the body of a hovering, humming bee-like form, but they work so well as a graphic component that emphasizes the two-dimensionality of the painting, the fact that what one is looking at is, in essence, "an exploration ... of lines, colors, forms," taking place with paper and pigment.


Nevertheless, Storrow's work must also be taken in on the level of metaphor ... the chrysalis-like shapes in paintings of the recent past have released their winged glory. Her new work is charged with urgency, a poetic evocation of spiritual aspiration.


"Revisiting Bare Ground" is held over through Sept. 9 and will be open for September Gallery Walk.


'Revisiting Bare Ground'

Thursday August 25, 2011
BRATTLEBORO, VERMONT

 


Nancy Storrow's drawings in Seen/Not Seen take one to a world before words, where things have not yet been named. The abstract imagery comes from actions of the hand, directed by a different way of seeking — feeling — knowing, that originates in the body. The activity in the drawings does not take place center stage. Rather, it hunkers down in a corner of the rectangle, where a vulnerable circling of tone and movement draws comfort from the off-center placement on the page. I take a visceral journey with her and wander about the swirls and layers, - opaque, transparent and gestural.

 

Within this fragile tangle, things are given and taken away. She does not present us with a solid form because it is not about the form, but the process of her inner conversation. The viewer can witness the conversation after the fact but never enter into it. We are each in our own world of the body. As we reach out to mark our experience, only a hint of it registers, a cry for connection. Storrow is a master colorist, evoking emotion with the juxtaposition of hues, which are there and not there. In these drawings, thin lines of green, blue, purple, brown, and rust entwine like nerve fibers at the center of edgeless puffs.

 

Daria Dorosh May 23, 2008

 

 


On viewing Nancy Storrow's Drawings


Rain falls. An erasure is made.
Four lines bend as threads upward.
Wavering in inaudible sounds.
A thicket leans, splays, closes its
density. No horizon here. Only
conversation. The air hums
from whence to where.

Eyes move to an upper window.
An owl passes in slow motion
her heart flies beyond any rim.
Pencils slip from fingers no longer
hers, fall into nothingness.
Spaces widen, await.

In her hand a pod is held day
after day. On an August morning
it relinquishes its colors. She
dips, cannot stop, respects and
keeps the emptied pod. A concrete
form moves on its shelf. What was
in shadow, voices from whence, to here.

Ann Stokes, 1995

 

 


The simplest of transactions in painting is the application of pigment to a surface, and the most elemental communicator between minds is the sign or symbol. In essence, a Storrow painting is only a sign or symbol on a ground. The art of it lies in the eloquence with which these parts are invented and combined, but much of the strength comes from the artist’s insistence on clarity. In these luminous works, which seem to have been breathed into existence, a free impulsive complexity is built on a clear foundation, a foundation that replays for us some fundamentals of being.

 


Storrow has pared her expression down to three elements. Her art is like chamber music, a purposeful harmony within which the autonomy of each instrument flourishes.

 


The starting point, the patient appreciation of the rectangle of white vellum, remains vital in the finished piece. It is not overwhelmed, a mere background, nor made spongy and meaningless by uncontrolled spatial illusionism. With casual virtuosity the translucent whiteness is cherished, the surface tightened and enhanced by the markings on it.

 


The second element I think of as the message, the ostensible motive of the work. This takes the form of a simple descriptive drawing, a single, self-contained image. Whether it be a cryptic ideogram, a memory of an insect, or some other thing, the image has its own integrity as a piece of actual information, an outsider in the formal world of art interactions. The inclusion of this self-absorbed information is somehow unexpected, a clue where a decoration might have been expected. A literal meaning is of course, far from the artist’s intentions, yet the obsessive intensity of the mark alerts us; something of importance is going on.

 


The third actor in the drama is the mediator, who intercedes between the radiant, but passive ground and the willful image. Soft, yet distinct strokes, charged with feeling, both support the image and give substance to the ground. Like the chorus in a Greek play, they are ever present; not actors, yet acting, surrounding, commenting. Some of the actions are penetratingly personal: in Sunnyside she has dipped her five fingers in paint and swept them across the field in a gesture that feels like anguish.

 


There is a quality arising from this economy of means that is anything but terse. Storrow marshals powerful poetic forces; symbol, sign, depiction and abstraction, and holds them together with an easy lyrical virtuosity. The concise haiku of her paintings carry authority within. These are interior works, the path of the meditative mind revealed.

 


Art, by definition, is obliged to connect to life. A Storrow painting is intensely lifelike in the best sense. It does not imitate: it is a metaphorical parallel that illuminates.

 


David Rohn

Artist
March, 2002