The term \u201cabstract realism,\u201d coined by another writer for this publication some time ago, could sound oxymoronic until one encounters the work of an artist to whom it aptly applies. One of the most accomplished among them to appear on these shores in recent months is the French artist known curiously by the capitalized mononym of NAT, whose paintings seem to be all about maintaining an exquisite balance between the actual and the abstract.\r\nIn NAT\u2019s exhibition at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from January 6 through 27, with a reception on January 8, from 6 to 8pm, the two supposedly opposing poles of expression are skillfully united in works such as \u201cOlympe.\u201d Here, clusters of red berries, evoked with consummate realist finesse, are set within an ambiguous space suggesting a tilted canvas within the canvas, poised between the illusion of deep space and the reality of the two dimensional picture plane.\r\nBy contrast, while the four tall rectangular forms in NAT\u2019s composition \u201cDubai\u201d and the color areas against which they are set suggest the towers of a modernistic city built in the desert, they are adamantly minimalistic and the artist\u2019s patchy paint application seems to reference the interwoven planes of cubism. Then there is \u201cAlle Sepie,\u201d where the shallow space of the picture plane prevails, while the imagery veers sharply between a realistically rendered seashell suspended in space and a precise red line positioned some distance below it on a subtly modulated gray ground. As seen here, one of the pleasures of viewing NAT\u2019s work is sharing the pleasure that she takes in creating complex visual conundrums from paradoxically simple elements that question our perceptions of what is and what is not real. Often her forms appear to be very specific depictions of imaginary objects, rather than abstract shapes, while, conversely, the recognizable things that she includes in her compositions read as primarily abstract devices employed purely for formal effect.\r\nObviously, there is more than a small measure of the metaphysical at work in these paintings, a kind of visual interrogation of the nature of seeing that comes across most insistently in a composition such as \u201cIce Dream,\u201d which suggests a vast arctic expanse evoked with a crystalline clarity reminiscent of the desolate surrealist terrains of Yves Tanguy. At the same time, simply by shifting one\u2019s mindset and point of view, the abstract spareness of the forms can make any literal reading in relation to subject matter seem irrelevant to the painter\u2019s primary intention.\r\nAmid all these playful perceptual ploys, the one constant in all of NAT\u2019s compositions is her intimate engagement with the act of painting itself, which is revealed in the luminous clarity of her colors and the unfailing finesse with which she works her surfaces. Indeed, it seems no arbitrary decision on her part to work in oil on linen, the medium of the Old Masters, for no other materials would seem suitable to the exquisite refinement of her technique and the manner in which it enables her to transcend the arbitrary boundaries between the nonobjective and the representational to create paintings that stand on their own singular merits.\r\n\u00ac\u00acMarie R. Pagano\r\nImage Credits: Alla Bolognese, Oil on Linen, 20" x 20"