Soon after I jokingly told a gallerist that artists should make their own invitations, I
received a hand-cut curved card in the mail. This conscientious endeavor piqued my curiosity. To my delight, Ruth Root’s seemingly haphazard
installation of idiosyncratic, nonobjective paintings releases the city’s bustling energy, rather than squeezing it out, as Peter Halley’s Day-Glo grids do.
One wall showcases 25 meticulously constructed
abstract drawings that
simultaneously vary shape, mark-making, and decorative patterns, and amount to a cityscape replete with skyscrapers and transport
vehicles. One glow-in-the-dark drawing, wryly situated amid these urban motifs, resembles a balloon dog or a plate of sausages. In the dark, this
dozing metropolis recalls the Queens Museum’s panorama.
Since Mondrian’s Boogie Woogie, the gridded surface has evoked urbanism. Root’s less rigidly gridded paintings from 1999 double as city-life details. For example, orange, brown, lavender, and gray stacked boxes suggest debris left over from an Hermès,
Bendel, and Prada shopping spree, although they also
suggest building sites or
freshly painted ziggurats.
Fans of Harold and the Purple
Crayon will appreciate Root’s free-form use of magic marker, especially when she makes
striations similar to Harold’s window-paned sprawls.
Swatches of layered colors evoke serial window shades pulled shut, while painted
cigarette shims counter gravity’s sway over several canvases’ unwieldy weights. Two other paintings feature patched
partial ellipses intervening on open fields (her curved card’s metaphor); one eggish ellipse exposes her glazing technique, which evokes freshly melted colored tissue paper. Here, viewers who enjoy trolling for deep-seated metropolitan memories join those who prefer to embrace the generosity of her poetic hand-cut shapes and marks.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 16, 1999