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Barry Goldberg at Howard Scott and Larry Becker Contemporary
Art in America, Jan, 2005 by Miriam Seidel

With its sensuous, molten sheen and thickness, encaustic has an endless allure. But, having worked with it for 20 years, Barry Goldberg seems to have moved past the romance phase with this technically challenging medium. His new abstract paintings in encaustic and oil, all from the last two years, show him reducing the expressive effects of his materials to the subtlest possible level. Working with forms in encaustic added over grounds made of scraped-down layers of encaustic over oil, he pushes the relationship between figure and ground into a state of oscillating tension.

In about half the works shown at both venues, the encaustic shapes have retreated toward the edges and thinned down to window-like frames that surround the open, striated oil surfaces. Only close up do these works reveal their quietly velvet texture. The delicate back-and-forth of frame and "view," shiny and matte surfaces, worked best for me in the several paintings that juxtapose two closely related hues.

Yanaihara (2003), a tall, thin piece included in the Becker show, playfully references Giacometti with its title (Yanaihara was one of the latter's portrait subjects). In it the pale celadon framing element surrounds an only slightly darker green ground. In the larger painting The Steerage (2004, seen in New York), a similar soft green ground is surrounded by a paler and yellower track. If this work's title encourages us to read the horizontal arrangement as a ship's diagram, with overtones of immigration or slave transport, the suggestion is as faint, yet lingering, as the color.

In the end, this format felt a little constricting, especially in contrast to the other works that filled out both shows. In these, thicker bands of color allowed each element more presence, and Goldberg ventured into some pretty strong colors. Vertical stripes of fuchsia, lavender and haw contend on the surface of Lifespan (2003, at Becker), for instance. Two larger works from 2003, one in each show, took this stripe format to successful extremes. The moody expanse of white streaked with darker marks that makes up most of Brink is anchored at the bottom by a thick stripe of shockingly solid, solar yellow. In Charon, two differently dark fields convey depths of water or night sky, while a band of white lies between them. The smooth white suggests threshhold, beach, and even bandage; here, as elsewhere, the creamier and flatter, more heavily worked areas elicit a contemplative viewing.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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