Vivid abstracts demand attention

October 14, 1997|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Melinda Stickney-Gibson's abstract paintings impart a sense of understated emotional narrative.

Understated may seem an odd word to describe paintings with colors as bold as the acid, mustardy yellow of "Open's Shadow" and the tense, throbbing red of "A Solitary Instinct." Nor is quietness exactly suggested by her more obvious shapes -- the vaguely face-like green ellipse of "Open's Shadow" or the three angular, insect-like black forms in "The Terms of Exit."

Nevertheless, these big paintings at C. Grimaldis Gallery communicate feelings of slow movement, of rumination, of more going on behind the scenes or between the lines than in their overt gestures and foreground pictorial strategies. They keep you wanting to get behind their surfaces to where their elusive essences lie. They demand a length of attention that's a sign of a good painting.

Those insect-like shapes near the center of "The Terms of Exit," for instance, offer a contrast to the rest of the painting. They're the foil that brings out the subtlety of the elegant white rectangle at the left intersected by a delicate black line, and the veil of white across the way that, like a stage scrim, mutes the dancing green lines behind it. There's a gallant reticence that successfully defies vulgarity in this painting.

Similarly, "A Solitary Instinct" isn't really about the dazzling white of its lower right or the flashy red of its upper left so much as what happens in between: the muted path of red that creeps across the center, making peace, and the filament-like tendril of white just below, floating there as if it has been sent to accept the offer.

The column-like black shape that stands in the right background of "Open's Shadow" throws into relief the embrace of black and yellow that dominates the painting, like wisdom ready to temper impetuosity when the time comes.

It's not that these paintings have a specific program, that they can be read like psychological studies. They really don't suggest words at all, and words can only act as stand-ins for the visual subtleties of these canvases.

In addition to Stickney-Gibson's larger paintings, there are several small oils on paper. They are less challenging but much more accessible and, in their own way, thoroughly satisfying.

If Stickney-Gibson's paintings bring to mind narratives, Bernhard Hildebrandt's ink on Mylar drawings are more like incidents. Dripped and spattered, they suggest action in a way that obviously recalls Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. And there's a strong strain of surrealism in them, both in their suggestion of automatic marks and in the occasional formation of shapes that recall Miro's endearing creature-like forms.

The best resolved of these untitled works has a strongly vertical format and suggests a debt to Japanese art, both ceramics and calligraphy. The other Hildebrandts here may be more thoroughly his own, but this one has a dignity that cannot be denied.

Abstract art at Grimaldis

What: New works by Melinda Stickney-Gibson and Bernhard Hildebrandt

Where: C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m.-5: 30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 2

Call: 410-539-1080

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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