February 1, 2010
Terri Roland
Art In America
February 2010
Harmony Hammond

Terri Rolland has always struggled to infuse her formal painting practice with political content, and that struggle was the sub- ject of the work. In the past, she relied on semifigurative narratives of confrontation and opposition, with Klee-like personages marching across fields of gridlike brush­strokes. In recent paintings, she has turned entirely to abstraction, though when speak­ing about it she maintains this is connected to her interest in contemporary issues of the small, slow and sustainable.

Rooted i.n the natural world and music (as evidenced in their titles), each of the nine triptychs in this exhibition consists of equal-sized parts placed side-by-side, creating an overall horizontal rectangle. Seven small triptychs, ranging in size from 8 by 30 inches to 11 by 42 inches, are acrylic on panel; two larger ones-24 by 84 inches-are on canvas. It's the panel paintings, radiant in their white frames, that steal the show. The exhibition’s title, "Slow Thirds," suggested music, and, indeed, the repetition of shapes and col­ors, with slight tonal shifts, incrementally built a staccato rhythm of start and stop, and struck an extended chord of same­ness and difference.

In one of two series loosely based on the grid, each part of the triptych is divided into three roughly equal horizontal bands. Each band is then vertically sec­tioned into squares and rectangles, many of which contain a smaller square or squares within. The result is interlocked blocks of carefully considered color-chalky, matte, cosmeticlike tints-in stacked units not quite lining up and jos­tling for space. Figure and ground merge, and there is no focal point: everything is equal. Occasionally a square or rectangle goes off the edge or overlaps another, opening up what is essentially a shallow space. The paintings are executed wet into wet, with brushstrokes and layers of undercolor visible; the surface.and the quirky accidents along the edges where color meets color, indexical signs of maker and making, activate the paintings.

The second series consists of com­positions in two unequal horizontal bands. Instead of shapes within shapes, Rolland has painted, on top of the col­ored rectangular areas, forward (>) and backward (<) directional signs, intended to move the eye across the painting, along with X's that mark spots for linger­ing. Claimed as a personal vocabulary of sorts, these linear signs, quickly painted in single strokes along a straightedge, are nonetheless not hard-edged, but clearly handmade. They do not cross over from panel to panel, but coexist in their individual spaces, albeit pushing at the boundaries. In Goldfinch (2009), the repeated signs, while varied in angle and thickness, appear to be in movement; however, all signs point inward from the painting edges to what is ultimately a self-contained space.

Rolland's paintings have always had a directness and lack of pretense. These are qualities she's held on to in this cur­rent body of work, as she comfortably shifts into a conversation with other for­malist abstract painters-Sonia Delaunay,Thornton Willis and Harriet Korman come to mind. Yet in their strategies of slow passage, coexistence of parts and self­containment, perhaps the works hint as well at her ongoing political interests.

— Harmony Hammond

Download:   Terri Roland
Art In America
February 2010
Harmony Hammond

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