Gestures and Geometry: Abstract Paintings and Prints by Phillis Ideal

Gestures and Geometry

Abstract Paintings and Prints by Phillis Ideal

September 11 – November 21, 2021

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Phillis Ideal is a native New Mexican, born and raised in Roswell with her family-line tracing back to pioneers that came to New Mexico in the 1880s. Growing up in the desert—imprinted by the mystery of open space and the ever changing dynamic sky—combined with living thirty-six years in the crowded urban energy of New York City, defines her current works that juxtapose expansive gestural space and tightly packed collage areas.

Peter Frank of the Huffington Post’s Haiku Reviews speaks to Ideal’s painting; Phillis Ideal paints expansively, regardless of the size of her visual field, laying out her abstractions with broadly described areas of color. The breadth of that description incorporates both painterly gesture and sharply defined contour, a combination of texture – abetted by a restrained but still succulent palette – that opens up visual possibility. The overlays of gesture, including scratch and scribble, and geometrically defined edge continue around and atop the major forms, providing that much more intricate and engaging a composition. In their confluence of the hard edge and the painterly, Ideal’s paintings evince a sophisticated grasp of American postwar painting – sophisticated enough to add to, even renew, it while remaining distinctive and up-to-date.

In response to Ideal’s iPhone print series, Ann Landi, a contributing editor of ARTnews writes: Phillis Ideal, known for quirky nonobjective paintings that incorporate collage and spray paint (among other techniques), downloaded and mastered an app known as Zen Brush and has created a series of drawings that recall ink or graphite works by the ‘”founding fathers” of gestural painting—Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning. As the name of the app suggests, they also bring to mind Asian calligraphy and ink-wash paintings, though Ideal’s shapes and squiggles refer more to the contemporary idioms of cartoons and graffiti. What is remarkable is the range of effects achieved on a tiny cell-phone screen, from snaking lines that look like they should have been made with a sweep of the arm to subtle tones that range from pale gray to blackest black.   

Like the Abstract Expressionist masters mentioned above, the drawings depend for impact on a certain measure of spontaneity, which is preserved by going directly from the small screen to a larger size with no editing in between. After some experimentation, Ideal decided on a 20- by 30-inch format, printed with light-fast inks on archival paper. These are one-of-a-kind images and in their unexpected collisions and suggestive shapes, they relate to the artist’s other works, but the iPhone drawings have an elegance and a wit all their own. And though they are made with the most up-to-the minute tools available, they still show the unmistakable evidence of the human hand—a quality that connects them with those very first efforts at capturing experience on a stable surface tens of thousands of years ago.

Ideal received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico and later a Masters degree in Counseling from New York University. After time spent volunteering with VISTA in the San Joaquin Valley, working alongside Caesar Chaves to improve the conditions of migrant workers, she returned her focus to art and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley she received a Master of Fine Arts degree, studying under the acclaimed visual artist Elmer Bischoff, and exhibiting her first solo show at the renowned de Young Museum in San Francisco as a graduate student. In 1982 Ideal moved to New York City and has been actively involved in the New York art world ever since, showing in galleries and museums. She is a member of American Abstract Artists and was a RAIR resident in 1991. Her works have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art, de Young Museum, Newport Harbor Museum, Albuquerque Museum of Art, Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art and the Roswell Museum and Art Center. She has shown in Otranto, Italy, Berlin, Germany, and Paris, France. Her academic experience includes teaching at San Francisco State, UC Berkeley, Sarah Lawrence, and the Brooklyn Museum.  

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