In her stunning, tightly focused show at Art 3 Gallery, “Some Differences,” inveterate poet, critic, and painter Marjorie Welish strikes one of her most successful attitudes—showing, not telling, how she thinks.
To begin with, she wants us to look for similarities and differences within each painting and between the diptych pieces as a way to see and re-see. As with poetry, we find ourselves reading the lines and between them, each time finding a new perception.
The show is surprisingly introverted—almost meta-painting. Shifting a bit away from her characteristic geometric abstraction in Mondrianish primary colors, Welish here sticks to a reduced palette of a kind of Delft-blue and white. But the blue is subtly modulated, and active in its small variations in intensity, gently guiding the viewer’s eye. At the same time, the blue and white patterning has a domesticating effect, a warm rendering in contrast to the grid abutting it. Welish creates these effects through her use of a paint called Payne’s Gray that appears in various manifestations. As Welish told Lilly Wei in the catalogue, “It can be dark or darkest, blue and/or gray with an aura. It is a metamorphic color.”
What is most surprising in this gathering is the personal, physical quality of the works. They seem to mimic breathing, inhaling and exhaling between the vacant areas and the more expansive blue mounds. Sometimes there’s a filmic quality, where the image seems to fade and flicker, establishing a rhythm.
We journey through map-like regions characterized by patterns that amount to regionalisms: through subtle shifts in alignment and shading, and point of view or perspective, Welish establishes a vague yet continuous sense of movement and psychological unease, intensified by passages in which a section of paint near the center seems to have lost its pigmentation, even though it may have never had it. The center may not hold.
Ultimately, the show offers mosaics fraught with contradictions. One side of each diptych presents a tight but irregular grid while the other contains a woven fabric-like depiction, one that is actually irregularly loose and may feature a ragged edge at the bottom, letting the viewer consider that the image, or reading, needn’t end. The repetitions in the patterning urge us to consider and reconsider what we think we see.
In this way Welish’s work tells the story of her paintings. They’re a form of narrative with highs and lows—abstract mountains and valleys, and myriad paths that may lead us astray.