In Northern New Mexico, the natural worldis unavoidably dramatic — dramatic sunsets, dramatic rainfalls, dramatic landscapes. In his recent solo exhibition, New Moon West, Paul Pascarella’s abstract paintings capture the energy of these natural phenomena as they unfold: raw, organic, and powerful. Pascarella has had a longtime interest in nature, and particularly the pre-industrial world, of which there are some nostalgic remnants left in the American West. Originally from New York, the artist relocated from Los Angeles to Taos in the 1980s, and has been a fulltime artist ever since.
The exhibition is dominated by several largescale triptychs painted in a variety of media including pigments, pastels, and collaged elements. The largescale paintings are accompanied by series of smaller single-panel paintings. While a consistent aesthetic pervades the exhibition, the small and large panels fulfill two distinct roles: the small panels are more condensed in composition and energetically frenetic. They read as singular moments of observation or studies of unique, nuanced events.
Each of these sixteen-by-twelve-inch panels feels almost entirely consumed with pigment. Vigorous brush strokes and drizzles of color convey palpable spontaneity. In the Me to We #1-3 series (2014), flashes of color—whether in paint or collaged printed papers— interact within a matrix of black, white, and muddled grays, injecting life into a neutral, if not static, backdrop. Collaged images of anonymous faces are obscured in the melee. These images seem to hearken to portraiture, though only tangentially.
Color plays a more dominant role in panels such as Spring into Summer (2014) and Beach (2012), in which broad brush strokes in a vibrant palette including coral pinks and buttery yellows edge out the ervasive black pigment. Swaths of color, accentuated by thin drizzles of black and red, feel automatic and intuitive as the panels effloresce with the spirit of changing seasons. Other works incorporate collaged elements such as graphic, patterned papers. In an untitled work (2014), floral prints peek out from the background creating a curious juxtaposition between printed and painted patterning. Though the paintings are abstractions, patterns emerge from the would-be chaos, perhaps akin to the seemingly random nature of natural phenomena that ultimately emerge into observable rhythm and pulse. While the small-scale paintings play host to intense explorations of dramas and feel automatic in their execution, the large-scale panels convey the grace and grandeur of an unfolding ballet, ordered and thoughtful. In the large triptychs, composition is loose and spacious, and condensed gestural activity is balanced with planes of stillness and quiet space. These pieces take Pascarella two to three months to complete; he works on panel to support the continuous application of media as he creates visual crescendos.
In New Year New Moon (2011), gestural strokes result in vibrational patterns. As movements emerge, figuration emerges as well. Elegant S-curves are animated like figures—perhaps birds, fish, costumed dancers?— that float through the panels. The use of the triptych in the large-scale paintings has the compositional effect of dividing the fluid motion of pigment into a quasinarrative flow. The vertical breaks formally disrupt the dancing lines and impose a sense of order and containment. On each panel, the dancing figures morph and turn, evolving from epicenters of paint to ethereal beings. In Dance (2013), singular paint strokes suggest wings or whirling, sleeved arms, and lead the eye from limb to tumultuous, painterly bodies. The serpentine figures are like the elusive flying phoenix, twisting through space yet just out of the realm of observable reality. The viewer may spend time tracing lines of color, discerning the drama of life taking flight, yet never seeing more than abstractions in paint. Though more calculated than Pascarella’s smaller panels, these large paintings are immersive experiences of the artist’s intuitive vision of the natural world around him. His passion for the pulse and patterning of the natural world is palpable. Capturing the so often overlooked minute spectacles of the natural world is a feat akin to preservation, inviting viewers to observe, respect, and hold dear the rapidly changing landscape around us.
Download: Paul Pascarella: New Moon West