ING-SPRAY is pig Latin for spring.
It is also the title of a composition by New York Neo-Expressionist Susan Rothenberg, whose current paintings are showing at the Phillips Collection.
"ING-Spray" is a portrait of the modern Dutch master Piet Mondrian, leaning back to catch the day in his face, his glasses propped on his brow. He is standing in a plowed field perhaps, but one can't trust the artist completely on this. With brushstrokes like random bits of straw, Rothenberg makes the environment ambiguous. And with her monochromatic palette, ing-spray eems-say very far away.
In her paintings, her figures -- if you can call them that -- tend to float in space, and that space is mottled and streaked grey like a blackboard in need of washing. Her colors are tentative, if they exist at all. Blue appears on a dancer's leg, orange accents a man's sleeve.
Her paintings are at the same time emotional and unreal. Her ghostlike subjects -- a monk struggling against the wind, a man as supplicant or trumpeter -- are about to crumple onto their knees, their faces disintegrating, their bodies disappearing into the canvas as into a fog.
She admires Monet -- one can see it in her nervous brushstrokes -- and Mondrian, who is the subject of four of the 14 paintings on display here. But although she follows Mondrian in spirit -- her paintings having a strong unity -- he is otherwise conspicuous by his absence. There is surely nothing here of the unified geometrical compositions one associates with Mondrian. However, in "A Golden Moment," one does see the artist (wraithlike, indistinct) playing with two primary-color rectangles, his trademarks.
The show covers Rothenberg's work for the past two years. If the recent "Biker" is any indication, she is tossing away her grisaille palette andheading for more colors with the same speed as this ephemeral falltime biker is pedaling toward us. It is a lively exception.