FLIRT Debra Drexler
Ann Kendall Richards Gallery, NY and ART SHE SAYS, NY
Debra Drexler, a painter and professor at the University of Hawaii who spends a good deal of time in New York, is offering an inspiring show of paintings and watercolors at two different venues: the private gallery run by Ann Kendall Richards on the Upper East Side and the woman’s space ART SHE SAYS, located in the West Village. Evelyn Tompkins, Director of Ann Kendall Richards Gallery is the curator of both exhibitions as part of her Art Des Femmes project. “Flirt,” the title of the show, refers to a lyric print with the same name, made by Helen Frankenthaler in 1995. The work can be nicely read as a poetic study in abstraction, but there may well be the suggestion of recognizable imagery. The composition, in which the background is a light pink rectangle and is bounded on the bottom and the right by a thin strip of light blue. In the lower right, we might read the horizontal brown line as a branch supporting two blossoms on its left end. These forms occur as an orange oval with a thin sprig on the left and on the other side, to the right, above the seeming branch, a sphere purple in color, lighter on its left and darker on its right. The lyric element of “Flirt” is undeniable, and Drexler, a painter herself of poetic sensibilities, is offering a good number of works to accompany Frankenthaler’s wonderful, evocative image.
Expressionist abstraction continues because of efforts by painters like Drexler, who favors lush colors and merging forms to create highly atmospheric paintings. They work well together with the Frankenthaler print. Both spaces make use of a copy of “Flirt”, which centers Drexler’s art and provides an inspiration for the paintings. The artist’s watercolors are particularly attractive. In “Beyond the Starry Sky” (2022), located uptown, the small work is dominated by two dominating inchoate forms: on the left, a vertical passage roughly divided in half by a luminous blue and, adjoining it on the right, a light green. On the right hand of the work is a broad band of bright blue, with small, cloud-like blotches of white. To the far left, touching the edge of the painting, is a dark-gray stripe, next to which is a thicker stripe of pink. In the 2022 acrylic painting “Drenched in Green”, also at Richards’ space, a green form almost like a sculpture with its persuasive suggestion of volume and rounded openings, dominates the center of the work. It overshadows blue mist-like forms on the upper left and, on the right a vertical with a whole in the middle. The fluency of this work, as in all of Drexler’s art, is striking.
Downtown, it is possible to see “Turquoise Boundary” (2022), a watercolor whose background is diagonally slashed in half: yellow on the bottom and blue-green on the top. Filling the center of the composition is a shape slightly like that of an hourglass. The stacked colors move from pink, pinkish red, and orange on the bottom, with a thin black line cutting into the lower third, and, toward the top, passages of mauve and yellowish tan. It is a massive image despite its small dimensions. “Rose Unfolding” (2022) is centered by a rose-like sphere in the center of the acrylic painting; surrounding are four dark vertices, red, black, and mauve, which structure the piece. In between these verticals, we see passages of color: white, mauve, yellow, and pink. Its array of shapes and differing hues make it a compelling painting. Drexler’s shows demonstrate her gifts for fluid brushwork and color that are at times delicate, at times bold. She can take expressionist abstraction and keep it alive—surely a difficult task after all these years of the style’s existence. The show’s use of Frankenthaler’s “Flirt” establishes a precedent for Drexler, whose skills and mindset are not so different from the earlier painter. All in all, the exhibition supports Drexler’s hard work and breadth of reach, whose underpinnings result from a major movement in art.
Jonathan Goodman, 6-7-2022