Frozen Waste II, Paintings 40 x 30

Charles Conrardy is Adamant About Abstraction

While a conservative artist once dismissed painting abstractly as being “like playing tennis without a net,” Charles Conrardy, a former painter of realistic landscapes, regards nonobjective art as liberating and exhilarating. In fact, he maintains that an absence of obstruction is what it’s actually all about! “A sunrise is already perfect, cannot be replicated, so why try to improve on it?” he asks, and adds: “Abstract paintings permit me the freedom to try whatever I can think of without violating rules, because there are no rules. In the past twenty years I have noticed, however, that Color, Design, Line and Texture have become mainstays of my work. It’s become my habit to incorporate these four elements into my paintings, and I hope my artwork is something you have never seen before.” There is no conviction quite so strong as that of a convert! Conrardy is every bit as adamant about his belief in pure painting as some New York School painters were about the power of pure gesture and art for its own sake, back in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. It’s a refreshing stance in the postmodern era, when so many painters are in the habit of hedging their bets and it has become the habit of so many viewers to Rorschach simply nonexistent “found” imagery into nonobjective compositions. Indeed Conrardy takes greater pains than most to avoid titles that allude to specific imagery. “Tarnished Brass,” for example, is what he calls one mixed media work on canvas. But the title refers only to the rusty reddish hues that dominate a surface in which the primary elements are a subtle range of sensuously distressed, scored, rubbed, and scoured textural effects. These are interspersed with energetic splashes of liquified black pigment, which also energize and enhance a composition in which the primary form is a single vertical black line that appears as though laid down the center of the canvas with a single, precise swipe of a thick charcoal stick. Intersecting this line are phantom cursive shapes, as though naturally “photographed” by sunlight or stenciled over time by fallen fragments of metal scrollwork, further enhancing the effect of works that are, like those of Antoni Tapies, born of mystery rather than method, and whose only subject is the inner, metaphysical substance of material reality. Equally evocative among Conrardy’s compositions are a monochromatic mixed media work called “Frozen Waste II,” in which rectangular shapes shot through with glimmerings of light, as those in Mark Rothko’s darkest veils of black, are overlaid by a maze of scored lines suggesting some primitive cosmic map; and “Equatic Cross,” a contrastingly lyrical coloristic tour de force of subdued dirty pink hues enlivened by bursts of orange and a roughly brushed thick black stripe spanning the composition three quarters of the way down the canvas that, respecting Conrardy’s vehement dismissal of recognizable subject matter, one must struggle not to read as a horizon line. Although, despite its title, no cruciform was visible in the previous work, a cross is clearly delineated in the golden yellow area at the center of the mixed media painting on canvas called “Circles, Squares, and Rectangles,” where the four dominant squares of the composition converge. Here again, one is tempted to call attention to the sense of shadowy gray figures and elements of landscape, partially submerged in the manner of palimpsests or pentimento beneath the earthy semitranslucent sienna. But the subtle coloristic and textural nuances, combined with the indomitable strength of Charles Conrardy’s composition, after all, give one more than enough to contemplate and savor. –– Wilson Wong Charles Conrardy, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, April 22 - May 13, 2014 Reception: Thursday, May 1, 6 -8 pm

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