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Inspiration and Process Meld in the Paintings of Roberta Dixon

Haiku, Paintings24 x 36
Roberta Dixon says that she imagined the very first brushstroke of her very first painting for almost thirty-five years before she actually began work on it. With that first stroke, however, it would appear that she opened a floodgate of spontaneous creativity.  As she puts it, “With each painting comes a new beginning, infused with possibility.”
    Indeed, rather than striving for the superficial appearance of what is commonly called a “signature style,” Dixon employs a wide variety of markmaking techniques to make every new beginning a departure as well. Swirls and skeins of painting that convey an all-pervasive sense of movement and energy figure prominently as the dominant forms in compositions such as “Haiku” and “Coney Island.” In the former, acrylic on a vertical canvas creates the gracefully intermingled black, white, and yellow linear shapes, which, in keeping with the title, suggest Asian calligraphy. In the latter painting, a horizontal composition, the rhythmically flowing lines and neon-like colors evoke the serpentine curves of the rollercoaster ride at Steeplechase Park. Indeed this painting, reminiscent for its dynamic energy of Futurism, is as close as Dixon ever comes to depicting specific subject matter.
    More characteristic of Dixon’s generally abstract direction are paintings such as “Lost in Time” and “Breaking Free,” with their densely knit all-over strokes and freely floating forms seemingly as schooled in the intimate Impressionism of Bonnard as in the “push and pull” of Hans Hofmann. For although she is apparently self-taught and speaks of her paintings as a way of “embracing chaos with a seemingly disparate focus on balance and control,” pointing out that she paints “with abandon, as if I have erased time and gone back to true innocence,” Dixon is a sophisticated artist who has assimilated varying traditions. Unlike more conservative painters, however, she does not show a nostalgic desire to “return” to tradition, but rather to employ it as a springboard to discovery. The sense of adventure, of journeying into new territory, that animates her paintings comes across in the contrasts between two of her most diverse compositions: “Molecular Dynamics” and “Dragon Day.”
    “Molecular Dynamics” is a coloristic and tactile tour de force, comprised of many thick circular forms of acrylic impasto, building up to an almost relief-like texture in the composition as a whole. That all of these elements are approximately the same size does not create a sense of monotony, however, given the brilliant harmonic spectrum the artist employs in this veritable cosmos of hues. “Dragon Day,” on the other hand, again suggests an Asian influence, particularly one of the dancing dragons that, amid a rain of firecrackers, adds to the festivity of Chinatown New Year’s celebrations. However, as in the aforementioned “Haiku,” Dixon makes a fresh painterly statement with this composition, employing it to make a vigorous gestural statement with a variegated and vigorously executed central form set monolithically against a dramatic black ground.
    Here, as in all of her paintings, the interplay of gesture, movement and color transcends subject matter. For while she states that she often begins “with a seed of an idea –– “an obscure image or phrase, or fleeting memory” –– her true motor is the mood of the moment translated into a fresh aesthetic statement about the act of painting itself. Process is the final truth in the paintings of Roberta Dixon and sufficient of itself to imbue her work with its own unique life and value.
–– Byron Coleman  for Gallery and Studio

Roberta Dixon, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th St., October 9 - 30, 2012. Reception: Thursday, October 11, 6 - 8 pm.


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