Simply complex

'Contact Paintings' a riot of color and texture

Beautiful, vibrant and conceptual, Contact Paintings 1997-2000 by Rainer Gross at the Marcia Wood Gallery this month may well be the spring show to see. Nine sensual abstractions flood the space in a great rush of pure color.

There's more than meets the eye in the German-born artist's tactile unframed paintings. At birth, all of his works are twins, though for his first Atlanta exhibition, Gross shows only three in sets. His studied process is simple, yet incredibly complex. First, he spreads out different solid color layers of oil and pigments on two identically sized stretched linen canvasses. He then takes the two toiles and presses them together. When he pulls the pair apart, their paint has realigned itself randomly. Flakes of color impose one on another, pigment comes off on oil, oil covers pigment in an uneven transfer. When displayed in a pair, the second canvas is rotated 180 degrees from the first, adding a perceptual nuance to the diptych.

"Hooper" is a set of yellow on yellow twins. At 72-by-60 inches, the two canvases mounted side by side pulse with light. In "Biasco Twins," a smaller rectangular piece, the conversation between brilliant blue and rich aqua is flecked in purple. A painting that from a distance looks like a solid creamy white, "Paas," has underlayers of pink and rust. Bits of color emerge in tiny areas like corrosion breaking through the surface of painted metal.

"Davini" is a vast map. Infinitely more distressed than "Paas," the surface shifts from deep red to deep pink and back again. Optical illusions in this work are discrete, but puissant; in spots where the paint has pulled away to expose an almost bare canvas, the thicker pigment stands out in relief, taking on the texture of the linen canvas that kissed and left it. The viewer might expect the paint to come crumbling off.

Gross chooses names for his abstractions from a telephone book, hence titles like "Meiko," "Belzer" and "Hooper." Differing from his works that feature stripes of pigment, Contact Paintings are raw mottled color fields. Painted in almost edible orange, purple, yellow, pink, blue, red, white and taupe, the compositions transform when approached from different angles. They shift in hue and erupt in unexpected organic patterns.

Gross studied at the art academy of Cologne, West Germany, before heading west to London and later to the States. He's exhibited extensively in Europe and Canada as well as in New York, where he now lives. The artist says that Contact Paintings represent the distillation of 30 years of work pared away to the real essential.

Contact Paintings are the ultimate monoprints. They propose a dialogue about original and copy, loss and gain, control and release. Their textured depth and inner light prove that the search for meaning in abstraction may end in an emotional and visceral pool of beauty. In truth, the show is the perfect antidote to Ross Bleckner's uneasy biology lesson next door at Vaknin Schwartz.

Rainer Gross' Contact Paintings is on view through May 6 at Marcia Wood Gallery, 1831-B Peachtree Road. 404-351-3930.

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