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Hue for Two

Art Review: Val Rossman and Janis Pozzi-Johnson, West Branch Gallery


Published February 9, 2011 at 7:10 a.m.


Two nonobjective abstractionists share the current exhibition aptly titled “Extravagant Color” at Stowe’s West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park. Philadelphia artist Val Rossman creates opulently hued paintings, including pastels on paper and dynamic acrylic-on-aluminum pieces. She writes in her artist’s statement, “My recent body of work deals with the fragmented quality of our lives.” Indeed, her largest paintings present multiple, overlapping layers of hard-edged, geometric shapes in vivid colors.

Painter Janis Pozzi-Johnson, from the Chicago area, creates oil-on-canvas works with mysterious surfaces and subdued yet saturated colors. Her ethereal, vaporous works reference landscape, but only obliquely. Pozzi-Johnson writes, “Through a language of undulating, nuanced surfaces and layer upon layer of color, my personal response to life’s mystery takes form.” Her 24-by-20-inch “Playa Miramar II” may refer to a beach, but the hues are not a realist’s representation of such a place. Above the diffuse horizon is a broad swath of raw umber, while below appears a steely blue-gray expanse. The paint looks like it was poured and frozen rather than spread with a brush. Pozzi-Johnson’s fields resemble an ocean surface seen from a great height.

“Low Tide” is a panoramic, 24-by-46-inch vista of green below a horizon and pale blue above. Pozzi-Johnson’s surfaces have lilting, finely scalloped visual textures. “Passing Through” has the same proportions and size but is vertically oriented. Its horizon area is nearly black, sandwiched between tracts of light brown above and dark brown below.

The vertical diptych “Grace Notes,” at 48 by 36 inches, consists of monochromatic, golden-brown planes of color. Pozzi-Johnson’s metallic gold is reminiscent of gold leaf in a medieval altarpiece and lends the work a sacred quality. The bifurcated image looms dramatically over the viewer.

Val Rossman’s vibrant acrylic pieces capture a viewer’s attention upon entering the gallery, but her rich pastel abstractions should not be overlooked. “Life and a Few Regrets” is a 22-by-22-inch piece with areas of mint green and a band of pale purple running vertically down the middle. Calligraphic lines dance across the image, independent of the patches of color. Rossman’s “Competition for Distance” is a deep indigo pastel accented by blue lines that shoot over the composition like lightning bolts.

Rossman’s pastels demonstrate her strong sense of color, but her acrylics are even more robust. That’s in part because of scale, but the compositions are also more tightly focused, enlivened by hard lines and geometric patterning. “Hot Tomato Career,” at 36 by 36 inches, echoes Matisse in its use of patterning — checkerboards, spots and lines. It seems at first to be collaged layers of cut tissue paper in a complex menagerie of resounding reds, but a closer look reveals the work is constructed from layers of masked lines. “If Tales Could Tell” has a similarly complex approach to harmonizing colors, this time a symphony of blues, purple and green. The complements of Rossman’s dominant hues are used sparingly, without watering down the harmonies.

At only 12 inches square, the acrylic “Complex Prize” is closely related to “If Tales Could Tell”; however, Rossman incorporated calligraphic brushwork, such as that in the pastels, over the slices of masked blue and green. The brushwork swirls create a curvaceous counterpoint to the geometric matrix of hues.

In art, “nonobjective” simply means a work is not about objects, but that doesn’t imply the paintings aren’t about anything. As Mark Rothko famously put it, “There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.” Rossman’s and Pozzi-Johnson’s pieces are definitely good paintings about something, and that is vibrant, rhythmic and boundless color.