Robert Kingston

Painting/Drawing
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Editorial Review


By Mark Jenkins

There’s a lot of what might seem to be available real estate in Robert Kingston’s “New Paintings,” at Randall Scott Projects. From a distance, the California artist’s large abstractions appear wide open, with light areas that resemble raw canvas. Actually, every millimeter is painted, although often with washes so thin that the fabric’s texture is visible. The pictures possess multiple levels, with underpainted regions that show through, whether strongly or faintly. Flashes of color, geometric forms and pencil doodles also punctuate the predominantly ivory-- or sand--colored fields.

Scott showed a few of Kingston’s bigger canvases in a group show last summer, and this selection continues in that style, simultaneously earthy and airy. As they were before, the larger works are contrasted by the smaller ones of the “Montauk Painting” series, which usually feature a darker palette and simpler formats. The vaster paintings have a certain kinship with prints, and that affinity is even stronger in such foot--high pictures as “Montauk Painting No. 4.” Mostly black with a bold few strokes of white, and discreet gray stripes down the sides, the picture echoes East Asian ink paintings and calligraphy.

Although clearly just as intuitive as the larger paintings, the smaller ones are more direct and more tightly focused. If the big pictures’ discontinuous compositions recall Cy Twombly, “Montauk Painting No. 3” suggests Piet Mondrian without primary colors or a straightedge. It uses a loosely painted black cross to divide blocks of grass green and sky blue.

Kingston lives in Los Angeles County, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains ---- a long way from Hollywood. That locale and the desert hues hint that his paintings are, in a way, landscapes. But they’re also construction projects, beginning with a single gesture. The artist adds, yet also subtracts, erasing small marks and burying whole regions under shades of white (including, sometimes, latex house paint). The archaeologist of his own work, Kingston builds, buries, unearths and builds some more. All that real estate, it turns out, is carefully considered and fully claimed.

The title of Judith Judy’s show at Alex Gallery, “Beyond the Real,” is intentionally ambiguous. The Northern Virginia painter is not an abstractionist, yet her warm, radiant landscapes aren’t modeled on particular places. Indeed, they seem designed as portals, visual entrances into the world of light. Soft--textured trees and grass define the foreground and vaporous sky the background, but the action transpires between the two, on the plane where sunlight bleeds into a rich, indistinct glow.

Judy paints in oils on board prepared with gesso, which provides a chalky white backdrop. For some of these pictures, she adds gold or copper leaf, amplifying the sheen. Rather than render distinct areas of shiny metal, as classical painters once did, she works the gold or copper into the multiple glazes of thin pigment, a technique that provides a loose, mottled luminosity.

Aside from the complementary metallic shades, yellow is often the key to Judy’s pictures, representing leaves, grass or diffused sun. She uses crimson less frequently but just as vividly. “Red Tree” shows a small blur of scarlet foliage at the center of a mostly verdant environment, while “Last Sunrise” is a tangle of green, highlighted by glimmers of ruddy twilight that seep through. Dark shades are not unknown in Judy’s work; there are shadows beneath the trees, and loamy soil along stream beds. But the browns and blacks, like the greens, are just there to make the hotter colors blaze more brightly.

Stray bits of metal ---- a nail, some wire, fragments of mesh ---- dot Lesley Clarke’s mixed--media paintings. They may remind viewers that Scotland, the Northern Virginia artist’s birthplace, was crucial to the Industrial Revolution. But “Scotland: Boundless, Beautiful and Home,” at Studio Gallery, depicts forces that are older than locomotives and steam engines. Clarke’s abstractions conjure geological strata, and emphasize metallic and aqueous tones. Although most of the pictures are not named for specific places, a few invoke such notable sites as rivers (“The Clyde Coming In”) or mountains (“Carn Mor Dearg”).

Clarke uses acrylic pigments, sometimes highly diluted to create a watercolor--like effect. (This suits her frequent use of paper as a medium.) Almost all the paintings are vertical, suggesting the orientation of the Highlands, and carefully arranged. Darker forms toward the center draw in the eye and hold the compositions together. The painter’s approach may be instinctive, but the results never seem random.

As a photographer, Bob Tetro takes a somewhat different approach to nature than Clarke. Yet both prefer close--up views and mineral hues, and Tetro, as the title of his Art League Gallery show reveals, doesn’t consider himself a representational artist. “Yellowstone Abstracted” focuses tightly, forgoing the grand vistas of the first U.S. national park in favor of crusty, scrubby specifics.

If these aren’t postcard views, that doesn’t mean they’re not striking. Crisp and immersive, the large--format pictures highlight oxide and calcite colors and textures, contrasted by stray glimmers of aqua and pale green. The images were made by the D.C. native in 2011, some 40 years after his first visit to the park, and probably reflect an evolution in his vision. Yet they also seem ageless, documenting the commonplace materials that will endure even after the park’s more dramatic features have eroded or collapsed.

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Robert Kingston’s paintings are part of his own lineage of abstraction that has evolved over some twenty years. These paintings are about painting. His work has always arisen from an earnest search for resolution in a range of gestures, movements and erasures. The appearance and meaning of the resolution has developed over years in the meandering progression of the creative process. Kingston's current chapter of work continues his investigation into the possibilities of paint. The labors are personal, but also come from a place of acutely studied history of art, design and music. Notions of Cy Twombly and Paul Klee, among others, slightly register, but while Kingston embraces this history, his paintings remain clearly contemporary,