Showing a softer side to hard-edge abstraction, the paintings of Gary Petersen and Halsey Hathaway, both New York-based, nicely complemented each other in a recent exhibition at Storefront Bushwick. Petersen’s paintings are made of straight, beamlike forms, often wedges, which combine to make parallelograms or triangles. Hathaway’s shapes are intersecting arcs, bulging or crescent on the inside, squared off on the outside where they meet thin borders that run parallel to the edges of the canvas. The works of both painters are meticulously constructed, leaving you to feel you are in good hands.
The colors in Petersen’s 10 works (all 2011, except two 2010) favor chrome and lemon yellows, greenish blues and blue-greens. There is an affinity, in color as well as form, with Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park” series, especially Ocean Park #27 (in the Brooklyn Museum). As with Diebenkorn, bright colors may be submerged under planes of whitish wash. Interconnecting armatures pull you in to a fairly shallow depth that stops at the painted plane of the panel. The works are small in size, the largest 30 by 24 inches and the smallest 10 by 8 inches. They are meditations on space, angle and extension. But there is emotional content as well, as in The Things I Miss, which moves the viewer with its sense of attenuation. The most layered and complex of Petersen’s constructions is Back From Somewhere; colored pencil lines in the background build to a thick greenish-yellow framework that locks down the composition. Petersen’s surfaces are flat, with just enough texture to let you know you are looking at a hand-painted work. He has exhibited extensively in solo and group shows since the early ’90s.
Hathaway (b. 1980) had three large works in the exhibition (all 2011). They suggest variations on belly and breast shapes. The overlaid arcs describe a centralized form that is bodylike but keeps flipping in its figure-ground orientation. Hathaway dyes his canvases with precise arcs of color before applying taped-off curves of paint on top of them. The edges of the painted layers subtly but insistently contrast with the flatness of the dyed fabric. Hathaway’s color choices have a 1980s decorator feel to them: pinks and peaches, olive and gold, mint green and royal blue. These are Frank Stella’s hues of the late ’60s and early ’70s, which became popular with designers in the ’80s, but they’ve come back here in a fine art context. The framelike borders on each canvas also seem inspired by Stella. Hathaway’s innovation is to combine Stella’s arcs with a color-fieldlike dyeing technique, achieving distinct edges between colors while managing to work both in and on the canvas.
In this smartly curated show, Petersen and Hathaway have found new territory to explore in a tradition that feels like it is just getting started.
Photo: Gary Petersen: The Things I Miss, 2011, acrylic and oil on masonite, 20 by 16 inches; at Storefront Bushwick.