Pat Passlof at Elizabeth Harris

Pat Passlof at Elizabeth Harris
Art in America
March, 2003

The most salient characteristic of Pat Passlof's painting is its strong, sure brushstroke delineating loosely contrived geometric shapes--stripes, triangles or balls that dance and vibrate with spontaneity. One thinks of Susan Rothenberg minus the images, or Sean Scully, if he shared more of Passlof's vigor and willingness to experiment with form. Wife of painter Milton Resnick, Passlof studied with de Kooning and attended Black Mountain College before receiving her B.F.A. from Cranbrook in 1951. Now in her 70s, Passlof has kept her canvases resonating with youthful exuberance while bringing to them the eye and experience of an artist who has been working for more than 50 years. This heady juxtaposition results in paintings that seem to be off-the-cuff but are clearly too sophisticated in terms of color, composition and execution to possibly be so. It is passionate painting, not only for its vivid emotional content, but also for the perseverance that has gone into its development. Passlof's exhibition of recent works, all oil-on-linen from 2001-02, was a selection from many more paintings. Of the 16 included, all titled Hamlet's Mill and numbered, the earliest was No. 2 and the latest No. 43.

Passlof's shapes--in the oversize Hamlet's Mill #2 there are 15 or 16 fat white triangle-ish forms laid out on a rich charcoal-green ground--are clumsy in the nicest way. They are as alike as stones, but no two are exactly the same. Sometimes they are roughly outlined in contrasting colors, and the irregularity of Passlof's wide, brash brushstrokes gives them movement. The triangles show up in several other smaller paintings, and all appear to be in suspended motion, despite their bulk, like giant pieces of confetti. With the exception of Hamlet's Mill #7, where lumpen potatolike shapes rain down from a white horizon onto a shocking pink ground, Passlof's colors tend toward gritty and earthy brownish greens, ochers, buttery yellows and orangy reds. Her stripey paintings, sometimes resembling tree trunks, are the least adventurous, with more predictable compositions and muted colors close in value. Liveliest of all is Hamlet's Mill #10, a field of ocher containing six fuzzy dark green balls that seem to quiver like magnified microbes in a petri dish. As with the triangles, each ball has a personality of its own, delineated with brushstrokes that are free and instinctive, yet sure. This is clearly painting for the love of painting--not a bad reason

-Carol Diehl

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