Moshe Elimelech, "Untitled #7"
January 7 - February 11, 2012 at L2kontemporary, Chinatown
by Bill Lasarow
Much contemporary art strives for high seriousness, compressing art historical source references and philosophical musings into coy objects meant more to be disentangled than simply enjoyed for their appearance. Formerly a graphic designer, Moshe Elimelech is inexorably drawn to want to tickle the eye with visual clues that blow the door of viewer engagement wide open rather than merely ajar.
Moshe Elimelech, "Untitled No. 7," watercolor on Fabrian paper, 22 x 30".
Elimelech’s past work has addressed interactivity, but in the manner of a parlor game (his “Cubic Constructions”). Watercolor-based urban landscapes were built up of numerous narrow horizontal striations of paint that display a deft touch and ingratiating charm. The more familiar the landmarks the easier it became to pigeonhole Elimelech as an illustrator deploying design knowhow rather than an artist addressing aesthetic issues via formal means. Seeking to establish a committed artistic identity, he has more recently opted to push away the subject matter in favor of a straight abstract application of the horizontal strips that references but does not depict nature. The results of this new series are disciplined but playful.
The grid has long served as one of abstraction’s classic armatures. Elimelech begins with a stack of lines stretched like harp strings across the width of a page. Paint application defines square or rectangular expanses that never extend to the paper’s edge, thus holding the most visible image area taut within the simple structure of parallel lines. Each narrow horizontal bar is painted as though it were an individual work, but always broken up by multiple interruptions of color and line. As the eye moves vertically there are instances of dramatic contrast, but for the most part and taken as a whole, the numerous bands are loosely coordinated to convey a unified effect. However lyrical the color and modular rhythms may be, the lines hold the image fast, reigning in the prevailing sense of kinetic activity.
Make no mistake, the sensitivity to color and visual rhythm is very sharp. Your eye can move smoothly from left to right, soaking up shifts in hue and opacity that offer numerous moments of pure visual pleasure and a rich set of associations. In some of these mostly “Untitled” works Elimelech allows neutral blacks and grays to dominate (“#18,” #20,” “#21), imparting an feeling of edginess, and in some works introducing light in a way that is well calibrated to feel both natural (“L.A. Sky #3) and metaphorical (“Untitled #15”). Looked at one way each image presents itself as highly intuitive and full of shifting incidental moments. But a given page seen as a whole has the regularity of a march.
Elimelech’s history is that he clearly likes to set specific parameters that serve as givens as he embarks on a series of work. One can feel the need for clarity and rationalism deeply embedded in the finished images. He moves, aesthetically speaking, from the outside in, and one must follow him inside the images to gain much sense of the energy of process. And it is there in the varying washes, the witty color schemes and in the diagonal inter-weavings that act as the warp to the images’ dominant weft.
Without these improvisational notes, these watercolors would die because Elimelech is not a minimalist nor is he a constructivist by nature: reductivism and purity will never be his métier. But the pleasures of this work go only so far as the artist can work the variables within a closed system, and that will eventually entrap him. He needs to make a more decisive shift from the principles of graphic design that have long come naturally to a set of aesthetic reference points that free him to privilege contradiction and surprise.
Moshe Elimelech, "Untitled No. 18," watercolor of Fabriano paper, 30 x 22".