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Steven Cushner's paintings invite the viewer into his world of abstractions. 

Cohesive Canvases

Since its inception in the early decades of this century, abstract painting has often confounded its art-viewing public. Employing forms that have no direct reference to external reality, abstraction offered a new reality equated with modern art in general.

Cartoonist Al Capp referred to abstract art in 1963 as "a product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered." Now that generations of abstract painters have come and gone, the style doesn't seem quite as revolutionary or even bewildering. Steven Cushner's work, now showing at the Reynolds Gallery, is a good example of why abstract painting continues to be an effective form of visual expression.

The Washington-based artist has mastered the ability to combine two divergent forms of abstraction into one cohesive canvas. The history of abstraction in art reveals two general variations: hard-edge, geometric form to suggest rationality, and objectivity and a more loose, spontaneous technique that relates to the organic and subjective world. Cushner has his cake and eats it too.

On one hand, his works consist of sharp, geometric forms reminiscent of Kenneth Noland's art; on the other hand, these concrete forms float over stained, aerated fields of color redolent of Morris Louis canvases.

Together, the forms generate images that remarkably declare their flatness and reliance on the canvas while still evoking the unimpeded dimension of spaciousness and eternity.

Cushner creates certain parameters for himself that result in a formulaic approach to his paintings. Employing three motifs — a concentric line, a grouping of straight lines and a solid circle — the artist seems to delight in configuring these forms in as many ways as possible. Once he has settled on the configuration, Cushner grounds his canvases with layers and layers of thin acrylic paint. These layers are simultaneously absorbed like stain on wood and surfaced with emphatic drippings. The pastel layers provide the perfect, organic backdrop for the bold, sharply contrasted black forms that hover before them.

In "Skipping Stones," different hues of teal saturate the large canvas. Floating on top are two large black ovals that dramatically divide the canvas in half. One oval consists of solid circles, the other of concentric lines. Together, these crisp, buoyant forms offer a pleasing contrast to the milky, dripping background. The scale of the ovals in relation to the human body plays a significant part in the overall painting's effectiveness. The ovals' openings are life-size and inasmuch beckon the viewer forward like great gaping portals to the ethereal, cosmic world behind them. This urge to step into the works is strengthened by the manner in which the painting has been hung — low to the ground.

The show consists of paintings in three handy sizes — small, medium and large. The small works, about 16 inches square, have the same motif of black geometric shapes overlaying pastel washes, but they do not evoke the energy, boldness and overall intrepidity of their larger neighbors. These may indeed be studies or precursory sketches for the larger works, which would explain why they seem more flaccid and ineffectual.

Overall, Cushner demonstrates that abstract painting is not dead or even outdated. On the contrary, the pure, magnetic fluidity of his canvases reiterate that the work of art and its beholder are very much
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