Review by John Goodrich, guest contributor
On the day a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, will we emerge as one, blinking, like groundhogs shaking off hibernation? Probably not; right now it seems more likely we’ll be easing gradually back to our old routines, with theatres, museums and galleries opening one by one and with various restrictions.
Happily, the process has already begun. An exhibition of Ying Li’s paintings at Pamela Salisbury Gallery in Hudson, NY shows an artist who hasn’t lost a step. While the exhibition title Alterity suggests otherness, the artist’s personal energy remains reassuringly consistent; the textures and gestures of her recent land- and cityscapes are as extravagant and urgent as ever.
Extravagant in Li’s case doesn’t mean undisciplined. Though her paint is slathered as thick as an inch in places, with colors often squeezed directly from the tube, her images show every sign of being rooted in faithful observation. In the six-foot-tall Christmas Everyday (2020), for instance, gestures and colors convincingly capture a city’s upper-floor view. Before we even register its particulars – and some details will remain unidentifiable even with scrutiny — we sense the slippery plunge to a street perhaps a hundred feet below, and busy forms swirling away towards the horizon.
To the Secret Garden (2018) catches a very different impression, this time of a lone, dense tree, placed palpably atop a slight rise, just above our point of view. Li is a fine colorist, and here pressures of colors distinguish the acidic green-blue sky, punching to the horizon, from a softly luminous violet-blue grid of strokes in the foreground–a fence, most likely–and the denser ultramarine glow of overhead sky. Against these competing blues, clumps of clouds proceed across the canvas with a kind of bright solemnity. One feels the same intensity of location in “Telluride, Valley of the hanging Water, #5” (2019), in which the artist has choreographed a very different, deeper space: sunlit foreground foliage, shadowed foothills beyond, distant peaks bathed in pink light.
As with many an expressionistic painting, Li’s images emerge from surging gestures and detonations of color. But we also experience something beyond an artist’s inner tumult; we sense a devotion to visual fact. The physicality of her paint flows parallel to the physicality of life, but her pictorial awareness and determination to do justice to her subjects lend them an authenticity beyond mere vividness of style.
The artist’s paintings occasionally verge on the indulgent, her sheer energy overwhelming pictorial lucidity. But a painting like Chautauqua Belle #23 shows the artist in full stride. By all reason, a painting of a paddle wheeler on a lake should quickly mire in the picturesque, but here the artist conveys instead her own visual surprise: the frame-within-a-frame effect of the ship, bracketed first by water and sky, and then by foreground trees. Twisting, trailing whites of clouds play against the more regulated lights of ship’s regimen of windows. One tree has been decorated (apparently late in the painting’s facture, judging by the layered strokes) with a sudden squiggle of pure pink. What it denotes is uncertain (a shaft of light? A blossoming bough?), but it indispensably extends the image’s rhythms. It’s yet another fortuitous moment in what seems a ceaseless thought process: here is my paint, there is my motif, this is what paint can make of it.
June 27-July 26, 2020 at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, 362½ Warren Street, Hudson NY 12534