KINETIC AND JUICY A detail from Russell’s Intonation #7.
At first, the approaches of abstract painters Lisa Russell and Mary Bucci McCoy can appear opposite. Russell achieves her effects through deliciously messy action; Bucci McCoy favors an elegant tidiness. But side by side in "Distillation," at Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery (600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence, through April 25), you find them both heading toward a similar goal: expressing their feel for and delight in the gooey, drippy, oozy paint.
Russell, who teaches at Rhode Island College and lives in Boston, paints small, dense compositions of lots of short, kinetic, juicy vertical and horizontal strokes (though some list out of plumb). Emergence #507 is a torrent of vertical strokes of battleship blue-grays apparently applied with brushes and knives that coalesce in the lower left hand corner with sparks of green and bits of brown. It's about the tactile viscosity of paint.
In Intonation #424, rusty reds pile up into white, blue, gray, green, and bright crimson verticals. In Reciprocity #407, horizontal bands of blues and grays with green accents butt into vertical bands on the left side. Russell's canvases are Action Painting writ small (most of her canvases hover around 10 by 12 inches), accumulating speed and building momentum from all the individual strokes of paint laid down bam! bam! bam! — one against the next.
Bucci McCoy of Beverly, Massachusetts, (who teaches at Montserrat College of Art, where I also happen to teach), begins with color, usually painting her square boards a single, flat, matte background hue — white, lemon, slate black, peach, pale burgundy—that becomes the background melody that the rest of the composition harmonizes with. Deep Down is a forest green field with oozing lumps of white breaking out across the green lower two thirds, like something that's rusted or water damaged and poorly refinished. A precise oval of black glitter hovers near the top, just to the right to center, its crisp outline accenting the carefully controlled chaos of the rest of the composition.
Toward (East) is a lilac square of wood with a thick, drippy blob of white hugging the lower left edge and painted out with purple as if to try to hide an error. A rough, wide rectangle of shiny clear gel hugs the right side. Each move is deliberately calibrated, a burst of messiness on the neat pastel field, wild but carefully reined in.
WILD BUT REINED IN Bucci McCoy’s Toward (East).
Russell and Bucci McCoy are painting some of the finest abstractions in the region. Their paintings are handsome and fresh, but feel like they're working comfortable, established territory. Maybe it has something to do with working in New England, where the aesthetic stakes seem lower. Maybe it has to do with scale — Russell and Bucci McCoy make easel-sized paintings, while the pioneering Abstract Expressionists learned from painting murals in the 1930s how to use scale to create giant canvases in the '40s that surrounded you and swallowed you whole.