Perlow’s ‘Off Center’ exhibition ‘a trip into abstraction’

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-YbccFkf5Gi.jpg’, ‘Image provided’, ‘Sandra Perlow’s focal area in “Short Day” is reminiscent of castle walls.’);

Sandra Perlow’s solo exhibition at the Rockford Art Museum is a visual trip into abstraction that will expand the viewers’ understanding of this sometimes baffling genre. Characteristic of art in our post-millennium times, Perlow has created her own hybrid style, where her artistic product may not be as much her point as actually creating her system. This is the interesting and mysterious part of art making.

Working on textured backgrounds, she sets the stage for each piece. Some grounds are richly layered, scraped through and glossy. Their golden tones are reminiscent of another era where visions of Klimt’s women might lounge. Other backgrounds are dry, flatly marked and sweetly colored. Their atmospheric quality evokes distance–perhaps even an aerial view. Soft, scumbled grays prepare the other surfaces for vibrant forms. And, in one case, acidic turquoise radiates from the canvas and will nearly swallow its patterns.

Perlow’s fascinating imagery usually floats on these hypothetical spaces. A mixture of fantasy and abstraction, she gives a nod toward reality that keeps the viewer’s mind engaged and churning. Hers is a vocabulary of personal shapes. Some are organic in nature. Others are squared-off versions of, perhaps, manmade forms. They float and tumble, leading the viewer through the experience that each canvas presents.

The focal area in “Short Day” is a square that reminded me of castle walls. On its background of soft green edged with muted, sky colors, the painting feels like an aerial view that actually gives one vertigo. But what is floating down on my hypothetical castle? Perlow’s organic shapes are reminiscent, in this case, of food. What is she thinking? Colors, values, shapes and relationships always take precedence over visual metaphors such as these.

Engaging the public in this game of “What is it?” is a fun byproduct of

such abstraction.

“Bare Facts” is built on a sumptuous gray background. Wrinkled paper supports layers of orangey-gold and interference acrylic paint. Then the milky, gray layer with its scratches and scumbles sets up the surface for lozenger shapes and painted collage pieces in complementary colors of subtle orange and blue. The limited palette makes this work quiet and calming.

“Rippled Shores,” on the other hand, uses a bright, very bright, versus gray color strategy. Here, shapes of strong transparent colors and bold opaque ones fight for dominance with fluorescent orange patterns on a gray ground. Linked shapes combine to make organic, or even humanoid, forms that roam the bottom two-thirds of the painting. These are exquisitely balanced by two dark blue areas of collage that dip down from the top edge of the work.

Sandra Perlow’s intriguing personal shapes transcend the canvas to become my private metaphors in “Bare Foot.” What may be bare feet to her are, to me, a group of speech bubbles—some flesh-colored—that are central to this work. The speech bubbles and colors, reminiscent of Philip Guston’s mid-career work, play on the soft, lush colors of a background incised with circular, writing-like scribbles. Combining Guston’s provocative ideas and this imagery gives the viewer’s imagination room to roam and experiment, turning Perlow’s painting experience over and savoring it for oneself.

Perlow lives and works in Chicago. A graduate and M.F.A. recipient of the Art Institute, her paintings reflect the textures of her environment and the flights of fancy that the urban lifestyle can create. This solo exhibition of 12 new, large canvases lets us look into her skills and imagination at mid-career. The exhibit continues at the Rockford Art Museum’s Anderson Gallery, 711 N. Main St., through Aug., 15. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday ,10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. Admission is $3, children, students and members are free. Thursdays are free to all. Phone: 968-0164.

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