TANGIBLE ILLUSION: “Circle #5 (Blue),” by Jeff Kellar.
Working with a very few elements is risky business; the more you reduce your terms, the more important each element becomes. Over the years Jeff Kellar, whose work is currently on view at Icon Contemporary Art in Brunswick, has been assiduously paring his work down to a point where now it consists mostly of flat panels with a few simple lines and rarely more than two colors.
|“Jeff Kellar: New Work” through September 27 | at Icon Contemporary Art, 19 Mason St, Brunswick | 207.725.8157|
Much of what I have seen of Kellar’s work over the years has been three-dimensional, often free-standing sculptures. His work has always had a minimal direction, but without the analytical severity of minimalism in the historical sense of the word. They were often very simple objects that projected a distinct physical presence.
Most of the pieces in this show, by contrast, were executed on aluminum panels so thin they are hard to see as being objects, or even paintings. Kellar is coming as close as he can to giving the surface of the works its own existence, as if it were a disembodied plane of color that has nothing holding it up.
The color itself is tangible. He uses colored gilder’s clay and pigments bonded in acrylic resin, a combination that, while rendering a finely wrought surface, doesn’t look painted. The tension between the physical quality of the color and the nearly nonexistent support for the surface is a defining theme that pervades this whole group of works.
“Wall Drawing #4 (Black),” for example, is four feet wide by three high. As the title suggests, it is almost entirely black except for a small slice of white across the bottom. The color is very slightly modulated so that the solid black is relieved from an appearance of uniform density. An irregular four-sided polygon is drawn on the black background using a thin gray line.
The lines of this polygon, and its shape, are at the heart of what Kellar is doing. The shape can be seen either as a lopsided diamond or a square that is tilted away from the plane of the painting. The tangibility of the surface argues that this is a set of lines firmly incised on the surface of a plane; the apparent angle of tilt argues that this is a pictorial rendering of a square floating in an illusionary space.
The tension between these two readings, whether it’s an illusion of space or a solid object with some lines on it, is never resolved. If it were, then the angles of the shape and the relationship between it and the white slice at the bottom of the piece would become merely an exercise in design, rather than a genuine artistic presence. Kellar is balancing on a very tricky tightrope here.
The tension between tangibility and illusion is approached differently in “Circle #5 (Blue),” a panel about two feet square. A wide blue ring floats concentrically on a white background. The white background reads as a space, as white fields usually do, but the blue ring is slightly mottled and reads as a concrete surface. In addition, there is a small white line inscribed in the blue that sits on a tangent to the white circle in the center.