Joan Mellon Flies High at Carter Burden Gallery


The painter Joan Mellon recently told me that, for her, painting was a conversation with her materials and surfaces. Indeed, her abstractions can evoke the sense of a searching, back-and-forth discussion — not to mention the occasional heated argument.
In Flyin’ High (2015), that exchange appears to have included agreements, reconsiderations, digressions, and, finally, altered points of view (one of the many ways that painting bests politics). The scale — two and a half feet square — speaks to the reach of hands gesturing in lively debate. It seems the angled pale-peach bars in the foreground intended to flatly divide the image into three planes, but background rectangles of green, orange, gray, and yellow — roiled by solvents dragged through the paint — disagreed. Another small bar of peach sings out from the adulterated orange patch, engendering a sense of the volume of a tenuous cube. This on-the-fly framework, implied beyond the canvas’s borders, warps the barely contained color fields into a gorgeous bedevilment of color and contrast.

Mellon (born in Brooklyn, in 1944) embodies a native New Yorker’s feistiness. Local History (2015) is roughly an arm-span wide and head-to-gut high, the reach of wary boxers feinting punches. Runnels of aqua dash across a burgundy field but are abruptly staggered by mashed-in brushstrokes, the drips a reminder of implacable gravity always trying to flatten us. There is a hard-won, luminous animation to these sagging striations — they are down, but definitely not out.

Many “isms” have reigned during Mellon’s lifetime: minimal and conceptual, as well as art of the land and the performance space, and the new’s and neo’s of figuration, expressionism, and pop. But, steadfast over the decades, she has let passionate form and color do her talking, no explanations necessary.

Reflections: Joan Mellon
Carter Burden Gallery
548 West 28th Street, 212-564-8405
Through March 23