Linda Vredeveld: Figurative Abstraction at Lyonsweir Packer Gallery

by Timothy van Laar

Linda Vredeveld is a painter whose refined meditative abstractions often ask questions about the boundaries of the body. Her exhibition of seven paintings at Lyonsweir Packer Gallery expand this interest, suggesting subtle complications of the old problems of interior versus exterior, and transient events versus the stability of physical objects.

The paintings are modest in scale, the largest at 4’ x 4’. She begins each painting with a scumbled ground of soft, earthy colors that are applied with a palette knife. The painting Run has at least three layers in its quietly active color field: a blue, a very light, cool brown, and a final layer of delicate gray-yellow. Over these grounds Vredeveld lays graceful, calligraphic strokes with a wide brush. They are simple gestures, a few lines that suggest tendrils and patches, or a continuous line that marks the boundaries of a simple shape. The shapes often have a perfect symmetry, and in these pieces, the faint pencil lines of underlying measurements are visible through the paint layers. In Run, a careful undulating mark of burnt sienna and umber describes an elegant, organically symmetrical shape that unmistakably, but with absolute economy, represents a woman’s body.

How can one mark produce an inside and an outside, a figure and a ground? Vredeveld shifts the weight of the spaces with great subtlety, one side of a line will have a few dots or, as in Run, a few drips. And as the lines create pressures at the edge of the painting, the spaces they describe advance and recede. These paintings are carefully planned, deliberate, and self-conscious, and in this control, we experience a kind of introspective awareness. We can analyze all the moments of the painting’s history and still confront a mystery—the mystery of signs. How is this simple mark a breast, a heart, or a curl of hair?

The tensions in Vredeveld’s paintings accelerate from formal plays of soft against rough, to more complex tensions of measured shapes versus the momentary gesture of her hand, and finally to conflicts of recognition between an image and its paint. They flicker between being just paint and constructing ideas through our unstable recognition of images-organs and bodies. In all their delicate qualities of touch and material, these works are painterly and intensely physical, but like Zen ink drawings they suggest fleeting essences.

Vredeveld writes about a spiritual basis to her work, and this is evident in what these works do. Although they are formally very different, the experience of her work is strikingly similar to the contemplation of an Agnes Martin painting. In Vredeveld’s work we become aware the tension between the physical and the transient. Through her simple signs, she distills the problems of recognition and knowledge. It is our recognition of her measured, yet still unpredictable, touch that invests her images with a fragile existence. With grace, simplicity, and even subtle humor, they whisper their questions about security and permanence.

Timothy van Laar

review in Dialogue, March/April 2001