Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Frank d'Ippolito at Art on Center

Published in the Volcano Nov. 30, 2006

photo: "Dance" by Frank d'Ippolito

After seeing a number of Frank d’Ippoilito’s paintings reproduced on the Art on Center Web site (, I was excited to finally get to see them in the flesh in his current solo exhibition. On my computer screen, they appeared to be some of the most luscious paintings I had seen in a long time, combining a creamy surface like that of Wayne Thiebaud’s early paintings of pastries with the depth of Jasper John’s encaustic flags and targets.

Paintings such as “Dance,” “Optic Opus,” “5 Pieces” and "Perpetie" did not disappoint. These are abstract paintings with dense surfaces and solid, architectonic compositions. They are complex paintings employing encaustic and other varieties of media to create interwoven squares and rectangles and vertical bands of color with great depth and a fascinating interplay of marks: here a flat shape, there a luscious transparency, somewhere else splatters of paint that look vaguely like birds.

“Dance” may well be the best painting in the whole show. A dense network of vertical bars in yellow, green, blue and a variety of earth tones is intersected by broad swipes and swirls of paint. The planes jump back and forth in prismatic effects, and throughout are flowing lines that are scraped and dragged across the surface. The painting is loose and expressionistic, yet well controlled.

“5 Pieces” is a grouping of layered boxes with squiggly marks and drips of paint overlaid with a network of precise lines looking like carpenter’s chalk lines and used as a unifying element.

“Optic Opus” balances horizontal and vertical bands of gray, blue and red on one side with an almost empty expanse of white on the other, all swirling around a hot spot of red and black

“Perpetie" is a dense mass of gray, yellow and white that reminds me of some of Willem de Kooning’s early paintings such as “Gotham News.”

These paintings are the best of d’Ippolito’s works. Ideally, being his most fully resolved, these would represent his latest series. And that might be the case, since none of the paintings are dated. But my gut reaction tells me his latest series constitutes a bunch of paintings with extremely thin washes of color on almost bare canvas. These paintings are risky precisely because they are so minimal, with none of the variety of detail and surface richness of the afore-mentioned series -- a few swipes of the brush and that that’s it. Hit or miss. I have a feeling d’Ippolito knows he’s reaching in these paintings. In a couple, notably “Painting in 2 Parts” and “Painting in 3 Parts,” he comes close to something great. But a number of the paintings in this series look unfinished, and some are just boring. I think he hasn’t yet found what he’s searching for in these, and probably should have held off exhibiting them.

Two other distinct styles of painting can be seen in this exhibition, both of which were a letdown to me. There are two paintings of vertical bands in monotones that look like abstractions taken from forest scenes -- all-over patterns of tree trunks with the trees and the spaces between them painted in various hues of the same color (blue in one, and I can’t remember the other). These are not striking paintings. They look like something decorative and non-threatening you might find in a furniture store. Another two paintings that seem to be from a separate earlier series are abstractions taken after Mark Toby, with clusters of calligraphic squiggles in the center bleeding out to the edges. These are a little richer in tone and texture than the “forest” paintings, but they are still rather decorative and too safe for my taste.

A gallery filled with works in the vein of “Dance” and “Optic Opus” would have made for a much better show.

Art on Center at 1604 Center St. is open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment. Call 253-627-8180.

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