Robin Bruch at Leslie Fritz Gallery
New York City, October 2013

Sourcing from the legacies of geometric abstraction, abstract expressionism, and color field painting, Robin Bruch creates arrangements of shapes and colors that actively push against each other, evoking while at the same time refusing representation, and leading to the fragmentation of the field of vision. Here, even if representation is desired and nurtured through geometric shapes that allude to the physical world, they also act as signs pointing to their very own ontological condition; a spiritual realm outside of our visual reach that is velvety, sensual, and haptic.

After graduating from Bennington College and moving to New York City in the early 1970s, Bruch produced a body of work where basic geometric shapes, triangles, rectangles and circles, are both shape and sign. In it, Bruch engages with the problem that illusionism posed for artists in postwar North American formalist painting, but does so in a way that straddles both sides of the conversation without fully committing to either one. Her compositions stand as shapes in space, some acting like objects suspended in a field of color, while others become antropomorphic sign, signaling to the representational qualities of shape and color. Coming from an institution such as Bennington, considered to be the last bastion of Greenbergian formalism, and studying under Larry Poons, questions of representation and illusionistic space and its refusal are de facto at the crux of Bruch’s work. In Untitled (1970), the picture plane is divided into two symmetrical parts, where concentric triangles are layered and butted against each other, pushing in opposite directions and creating distinct triangles inside and outside of their outlines. The triangle, a shape sexualized, polarized and repeated in this work, expresses the interconnectivity and fluidity of gender and the reconciliation of opposites. Color here is murky and dirty. Earthy hues such as deep reds and burnt oranges collide with black, lilac, and pink. Lines are drawn in an impulsive and visceral manner; they are wobbly and snake-like. They conform the edge of a shape, its contours, but they are also used to define and reframe the border of the stretcher, reaffirming the medium of painting as such. But unlike the edge at play in Post-painterly abstraction, here, the reaffirmed edge combined with simple geometric shapes repositions the canvas as a compositional image. Other works from this period, such as Untitled (1972), also reveal the embodied potential of basic geometric shapes. Here, three circles are painted on a surface divided by vertical and horizontal rectangles and thick lines to form the points of a triangle. Standing as elements of a symmetrical composition, these shapes are also signs that suggest aspects of a face. The fleshy pinks and creamy yellow colors activate an antropomorphic visual representation. And yet, a bold purple and acid green breaks this illusionistic space, reminding us of the painting’s own compositional condition as surface, color, and shape.

Recent stylistic changes in her work reveal an increased sensibility for color and its haptic possibilities, and an ongoing concern for painting as process. In these works, Bruch reveals her process, disclosing each painterly vulnerability, and showing how painting is at times a subjective process of self-doubt. Untitled (2012) transforms the motif of the triangle, already existing in her previous work, into a form that contracts and expands the visual field. Here, the picture plane is divided vertically, where compressed triangular shapes in shades of blue and ochre are densely painted to reveal a slightly off-center focal point. Pointing outwards from this juncture, two flesh tone pink triangles expand outwards, directing our attention towards the edge of the canvas. Blackened triangles frame each corner of the canvas, revealing in their application a pinkish layer underneath. Surface is treated in layers of consecutive color, applied by brush and then wiped away by Bruch while still wet, creating a surface that is velvety smooth and beckons to the touch. The rubbing and excess removal of the last layer of color suggests the material properties of fabric in its ability to retain and reveal surface moisture, but also discloses the process of painting by the hand of the artist. The edge of the shape is treated as a palimpsest of these shifts in color exposing procedural hesitation and uncertainty. It is in this painterly vulnerability where expression is found personal and intimate.

Works such as Untitled (2012) return to the representational qualities of shape. And yet, the use of color reasserts the picture plane once again as anti-illusionistic space. What could be perceived as a landscape, a triangular mountain that emerges vertically upon the canvas, quickly returns to its geometric condition. Plainsong (2012), one of the few works titled by Bruch, reveals her interest in spiritual chant and its expressive properties. But also displays once again the tension between the objecthood of shape and its ability to refer to the physical world outside of its geometric constraints. In this work, triangles point inwards towards the center of the canvas abutting with diamond-like shapes in the center, signaling the symmetrical center of the painting, where both of these shapes converge. These shapes, internally partitioned by thick swaths of color that converge and diverge from each other.