We certainly don’t need another reason to go to Chase’s Daily in Belfast. The food is fresh, healthy and delicious. The market sells the most magnificent, often unusual, produce you will find. But it’s also the home of the Perimeter Gallery, where Freddy LaFage and Karen McDonald put on top-notch exhibitions by local artists. These have included, over the years, Dan Anselmi, Jenny Brillhart, Alan Fishman, Karen Gelardi and Margaret Nomentana. Jeff Kellar’s “minimalist” paintings currently adorn the walls of Perimeter (until November 14).
The term minimal luminist is Kellar’s, and throughout the show it turns out to be perfectly appropriate. At other times, the term seems less applicable. Whatever the case, it’s fascinating to see how much Kellar can convey with abbreviated gestures and a few simple lines.
Two paintings share the same title: “Lined Space Green”. Number 4, in fact such a light green that it looks more like a creamy celadon, is a prime example of what Kellar’s term refers to – specifically, the behavior of light in the natural world and how it can be seen by the viewer. It sports three evenly spaced bands of white on a field of this creamy celadon. It is one of the best paintings in the exhibition.
Kellar builds up layer after layer of color using pigments, resin and clay, giving celadon a sultry marbled texture reminiscent of Venetian plaster. The materials appear to be in constant motion, like a slow, gently swirling vapor, exuding a gravitational pull that draws us to the surface.
The horizontal white bands first appear perfectly geometric. Yet as we get closer we can see that their edges are not as distinct as we would assume from a distance. Extraordinarily, they look like incandescent beams of light cutting through the vapor field of a mysterious source.
The composition and application of the paint impart the kind of contemplative silent quality that bewitches us in the works of abstract painter Agnes Martin. As with Martin’s paintings, the more we look at “Lined Space Green,” the more this optical illusion seems to emanate and move, disorienting our normal way of seeing and making us feel dizzy, as if we are almost levitating. in the air before the work. . It is completely transporting.
Conversely, the other “Lined Space Green” never achieves this numinous physicality. This is in part because of the particular shade of green that Kellar uses. A sort of shamrock shade, it is flatter and more opaque. The four bands here are lengths of a very narrow ribbon (maybe a quarter of an inch) placed vertically on the surface. Kellar then paints the entire composition in this green.
In her statement, Kellar explains, “They have the effect of exciting and then calming the eyes of the way you look away from the bright midday scene to the cold, deep light reflected under the trees.” For me, he accomplishes this… to some extent. The further we move away from the painting, the more subtly we perceive the variations in color, with brighter areas capturing that feeling of reflected light. But up close it is more difficult to discern.
“Lined Space Blue”, which appears to be produced using the exact same technique, has more impact. Yet French blue itself is a shade that, even when applied in flat, unmodulated layers, tends to be vibrant and naturally illuminated. Its sense of sparkle, in other words, is an integral quality of color. The way Kellar builds the layers only amplifies this optical disorientation to give us that giddy feeling of hypnotic pulsation, again doing something to our vision that makes us feel like we’re floating. It is indeed both minimal and bright.
My only complaint with the exhibition concerns the presentation of these three paintings. Because Chase’s is first a restaurant and then a gallery, they hang on the exposed brick wall above a bench seat and tables. To get the full effect of “Lined Space Blue” you really have to stand straight ahead, something impossible to do as the tables interfere between us and the art. We find ourselves looking at it from an oblique angle which decreases its power.
The other paintings are also more than optimal to see and experience them. Of course, this may also have contributed to the less interesting impression I had of the work in the colors of clover. I guess there is nothing to do, but it’s a shame.
Opposite these are two large paintings called “Glimpse (Day)” and “Glimpse (Night). The surface of the latter is largely black, the former largely white. In both, Kellar incised thin vertical lines that reveal the tiniest traces of paintings underneath. These “glimpses” of other works are teasing, arousing a sense of mystery. Our brains can deduce that the underlays might consist of big tomato red dots on a white background, but we can never really fix this problem definitively.
The incised lines are, again, probably only a quarter of an inch wide and do not move up and down the surface in one continuous stroke. On the contrary, they are slightly offbeat, adding to the general feeling of irresolution. These works might have seemed coldly precise. Still, Kellar’s lush layering of black or white is thick and waxy, almost like polish. We want to get our hands on it. Voluptuous temptation relieves and balances rationality and precision.
Other works are less interested in light and have more to do with form and architecture. I wouldn’t call them a luminist. Rather, they use geometry to create the illusion of depth in dull and perceptually opaque soils. At first we understand “Walls Black” as little more than a field of black ink on which Kellar has finely traced two walls in white lines that intersect in the middle.
But as with many of Kellar’s works, the time spent scrutinizing them reveals universes of nuance. The closer and longer we look, the more we begin to feel, almost bodily, the slightest variation in the black field. The almost imperceptible variation in tones somehow creates a feeling of space, a sort of void, in which objects can exist.
The pencil-like white geometry that defines the intersecting walls exploits this space. The converging lines suddenly make it appear as if they are occupying that space, interrupting the flow of energy within it, as Richard Serra’s controversial “Tilted Arc” once did in real three dimensions in the Lower Manhattan.
This interruption forced those crossing the plaza where Serra placed the Tilted Arc to bypass the enormous steel structure, which ultimately led to its withdrawal and a heated legal battle on the modification of the site-specific sculpture. “Walls Black” does something similar in two dimensions. In order to keep moving, all the color and air within the limits of the paint must circulate around the walls.
This sense of space defined by geometry occurs over and over again in paintings such as “Shade Orange Orange”. In the two polychrome “Stacked Blocks” paintings, the sense of light that permeates the “Lined Space” works mentioned at the beginning seems more present. This luminous quality is what drives minimalism, which can often seem intellectual and distant. This is, for me, Kellar’s very special gift.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]