Free-Range Palette 

The artists in the Reynolds Gallery's show work in really natural media.

click to enlarge art19_art_kass_100.jpg

Literally soaked in water and passed over flames, Ray Kass's ghostly paintings on paper at Reynolds Gallery are not just about nature, but are of nature.

Kass has built the better part of his artistic career discovering ways in which things such as the translucent and shifting qualities of water and smoke can be gently coaxed into artistic manifestations. He's something of a shaman, because he seems able to preserve a sample of river current as easily as a plucked wildflower.

Kass' response to nature has more to do with the visual and tactile qualities of a location than a representation of it as a scene. The mystical painting of Morris Graves and art based on chance by John Cage have both influenced Kass' formal and conceptual sensibilities.

In the '90s, Kass' fluid application of paint demonstrated an Eastern discipline that required reserve and celebrated happenstance. His strength has been connecting the viewer to a specific place or thing as an abstract idea and as a tangible, beautifully crafted object.

In "Water and Smoke," his show at Reynolds Gallery, Kass uses paper like a butterfly net, casting it in the air in hopes of catching vapor and gases. The visual outcome is nearly as ephemeral as that. Faint smoke stains and thin blue pigment barely skim the white paper, faintly suggesting landscapes or seascapes. "Water and Smoke" provides scant evidence of the artist's dramatic methods, and even less of his connection to his subject matter.

"Whirlpool (Crested Iris)," an exuberant monotone painting that was created without smoke, demonstrates Kass' strength as a painter when he works with saturated color. The watery medium glides and twists in a dense maze of broad strokes, forming a concentration of visual energy that his smoke paintings lack.

In contrast, five large black and white etchings by Richard Serra, the internationally exhibited artist perhaps best known for his large metal sculpture installations, provide welcome visual weight in the gallery. In each frame, multiple black bands, each the same thickness, extend horizontally with a slight bend. Because the viewer sees no beginning or end to the arcing bands, they might be interpreted as part of a whole, like a series of concentric circles.

Serra's imagery is graphic but not pristine. His white field is littered with extraneous black marks that look like cast-off particles spun into motion. The suggestion of motion is pervasive. As with his forceful sculpture, Serra manipulates the arc to convey a tense double reading. Either the slight curve signifies a plane bent just enough to support itself and rest, or it's a portion of a loaded coil, ready to expand.

Serra and Kass share an interest in making objects that are about the nature of things. As Serra has said, "Matter imposes form on form." But this time one might imagine that Serra's etchings aren't about ink, but rather about steel, and that's a subject he's mastered in all dimensions. S

"Water and Smoke," works by Ray Kass, "Between the Torus and the Sphere," etchings and works on paper by Richard Serra, and "Only the Past Existed Soon Enough," works by Jill Galarneau, are on display at the Reynolds Gallery through May 25. 355-6553.

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