Jun 09

The Slipping Glimpser


‘Summer Smoke and Paint’, Rebecca Gallery, Toronto 
The Slipping Glimpser
Earl Miller, Independent Curator
September 2008

Summer Smoke and PaintIna Puchala’s richly layered abstract paintings bear the weight and the depth of an abstracted personal history that plays out on the canvas as a rich pastiche of colour and texture balancing action and stasis on a teetering edge.

This definitive notion of edge recalls how abstract expressionist painters such as Pollock and DeKooning attempted to visualize in abstraction the sensation of standing on the edge of an abyss. DeKooning, for instance, told of how he wished to stand on a cliff and glimpse far enough into the abyss that he almost fell. He had become, in his words, a “slipping glimpser.” Translated to canvas, DeKooning’s desire to almost fall meant his compositions were structured as freely as possible without dissipating into chaos. Likewise, Puchala pushes painting and by extension herself as far as possible within the context of painted communication.

Along with this overriding conceptual approach to painting, common formal qualities also connect Puchala’s work. Her paintings are – at least categorically – abstract. She exclusively uses a palette knife, at times applying paint in slathered slashes and at other times patting down flat fields of colour. The paint is pure and opaque; she does not dilute with thinner. An intense expressiveness defines her painting: thick, creamy swirls, spontaneous dashes, and electrically animated lines balance quieter pastoral spaces. She draws attention to just how varied this paint application is by exposing underpainting in the same way layers of paint and wallpaper are exposed by scraping away on a wall in an old house. She reveals an underlying history: the intense labour and thought processes leading to a completed painting. By doing so, Puchala proposes that the act of painting bears equal significance to the finished product.

While Puchala’s painting references the process-oriented action painting of the abstract expressionists, personal narrative rather than artistic lineage informs her work the most. The spectral presence of a lone abstracted figure in the compositional centres of many of her paintings is easily interpretable as a self-reference if not a self–portrait. Consider how in SS011 (2008) a black central shape bears just enough hints of a head, arms and legs that it appears to dance with limitless abandon – a whirling dervish in an on-the-edge state of freedom. Even works that focus on an overall rather than central composition such as SS006 (2008) contain an implied figure, in this case, an outline of black trails of paint in wildly pulsating motion.

Puchala tells me her writing journal provides her with much of the inspirational matter needed to paint. However, her narrative when painted is not strictly diaristic because it crosses into the realm of the imagination where the sometimes violent emotional underscorings of real life can surface without, as she says, “serious repercussions.” Accordingly she paints best after “a confrontational experience.”

Puchala demonstrates that abstract painting is about a kind of personal narrative that uses expressionism to look down into a sometimes darker, imaginative world. Ina Puchala’s painting may be of quotidian origins, but its outcome is ultimately about catharsis as a joyful liberation from the everyday.

» View Gallery – Summer Smoke and Paint

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Jun 09

Ina Puchala and the Rapture of Pigment


"BLACK DOG" Solo Exhibition – Rebecca Gallery, Toronto
Gary Michael Dault – Toronto, September 12, 2006

Abstract Art

Ina Puchala and I share this: we are both clearly and probably hopelessly in thrall to the wonders of paint, to the chemistry (and the alchemistry) of it, to its strange, messy palpability, its recalcitrant thereness. And to its mysterious ability to be expressive, eloquent, its ability to utter.

What is it that is so moving about oil paint? Its ground colour in suspension? Its molecules, its corpuscles of hue kept aloft and alive in a silky medium, so buoyant they dance and scintillate long after they have dried hard as stone? The fierce docility of the stuff that allows you to have your way with it—until you’re attention flags, and it turns on you and pretends, like an exhausted child, to be dull and lumpen?

What I like about Ina Puchala’s oil paintings is the way they so accurately and minutely betray her skirmishes and collaborations with the pigment, her little bounded agons (none of the paintings is bigger than 21” X 18”), within which she and the pigment either cooperate or contend—or, most excitingly, do both. Every smear, sweep, swirl, pool, puddle, coagulation, hook or eye of it, every impress of one hue upon another, every juxtaposition of one hue to the next hue, speaks to the whole work, and, ultimately, to the viewer. A painting is a directed cacophony, a message in a bottle, a cry from the heart, tracks in the snow, footprints on the sand, the utterances of cloud, leaf, air and earth, a record of the body’s breathing and of its improbable endurance, its ductility and tenacity.

For paint is alive, and so is the painter, and there is a fragrant, flowery war between them until, all passion spent, the peace of reconciliation between master and medium falls over the field of battle—the canvas or paper or, in Puchala’s case, the mylar to which the pigment is consigned.

Colour is inexplicable. Puchala’s hot golds and creamy flesh-tones, her wicked shots of sea-blue, her quick, vegetative emerald greens and heated mineralized reds—almost, one imagines, as warm to the touch as bricks in the sun—constitute a language. Paint speaks as clearly and as eloquently (and inchoately) as music does. Painting is optical music.

To anyone who might feel impelled to ask Puchala what her paintings are actually about, I commend to him, to her, an indispensable book by art historian James Elkins called What Painting Is (Routledge, 2000). In it, Elkins talks confidently about “the kinds of thought that are taken to be embedded in paint itself”. Paint, writes Elkins, “is a cast made of the painter’s movements, a portrait of the painter’s body and thoughts. The muddy moods of oil paints are the painter’s muddy humours, and its brilliant transformations are the painter’s unexpected discoveries. Painting is an unspoken and largely unrecognized dialogue, where paint speaks silently in masses and colours and the artist responds in moods…Paint is water and stone, and it is also liquid thought” (p.5)

» View Gallery – Black Dog

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