Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pure form

GREEN CHORD: acrylic on canvas by Julia Ricketts.
Photo: Courtesy Photo
GREEN CHORD: acrylic on canvas by Julia Ricketts.

Julia Ricketts at Fulcrum Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 29, 2008

Since opening this past December, Fulcrum Gallery has been known for cutting-edge art with an emphasis on sculptural work and installations. But its current show features traditional modernist paintings by Julia Ricketts. These are abstract paintings in acrylic on canvas plus one oil painting and a small group of etchings and mixed-media works on paper.

Ricketts paints brushed bands of various colors arranged in repetitive grid patterns in a style that relates to the color field paintings of the ’70s and ’80s. There are hints of early Frank Stella paintings and even a nod to Mark Rothko, the grandfather of color field painting.

Her compositions are classical and simple with a harmony and contrast of watery bands of color set off against sharp ruled lines. There is a musical feel to her shimmering colors as they dance around the spaces between. The ruled lines may or may not be done with paint. They look more like graphite and colored pencils to me, like architecturally precise grids laid down as a preliminary study and painted over with thin washes of color that overlap and bleed one into another. Ricketts does not color within the lines.

Most of her paintings consist of evenly spaced horizontal bands, some in contrasting colors that play off against one another like notes in a jazz composition and others in harmonizing colors that create a smooth flow from shape to shape.

Temperature is a major factor in her color choices. By this I mean either contrast or harmony of warm and cool colors. Warm paintings such as Excerpt in Orange I glow with hot oranges and yellows that remind me of the explosion of scotch broom and California poppies we see along the freeways this time of year. Her reds, yellows and oranges are expansive. They brush against and expand beyond the marked edges of shapes both physically and optically. The orange bands gradually change color from a burnished red-orange to a yellow-orange that is so hot it almost hurts the eye, and the white areas between bands of color have a silvery sheen. This is sophisticated use of color.

While paintings such as Excerpt in Orange I are burning hot, paintings the likes of Green Chord I and Green Chord II are as cool as a dip in the ocean. These are predominantly blue and green and are very restful. With a minimum of visual clues, they create the feel of landscapes, and another whole group of paintings on the left side wall as you enter the gallery looks like seascapes. There is a hint of a crescent moon in one painting and shapes that remind me of fish in another.

In a lot of Ricketts’ paintings there is also a reference to the American flag. The colors are not red, white and blue, and there is no field of stars, but simply by making the top bar shorter than the others she creates the illusion of a flag — the flag being such an iconic figure that the slightest hint puts the thought in the viewers’ mind.

Her etchings and mixed media works on paper have a different feel and look. They are more architectural. Whereas the paintings evoke feelings of sunsets and fields and water, the etchings are gritty and urban feeling with duller colors and a layering of marks that creates the feel of looking through dirty windows onto an industrial area of a city, perhaps on a Sunday morning when no one is at work.

In my descriptions of Ricketts’ art I have used a lot of referents to things such as landscape and urban scenes, but like Ivory soap, her art is 99.9 percent pure. Pure abstraction that is. It is all about balance, rhythm and harmony — color and line. There is nothing new or particularly innovative here, but for what it is, it is beautifully done. She is a strong painter.

[Fulcrum Gallery, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Thursdays 6-9 p.m. and by appointment, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

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