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Adria Arch’s new paintings start with a splash. Working in an intuitive, gestural tradition, she brings in the element of chance at the beginning. The liquid spill, a pooling pour of paint, is the first mark. It’s the chosen way of activating the space of the white canvas. It is the first step that determines a causative sequence of subsequent marks.

That’s the intellectual explanation, for works that are really more concerned with feeling and surprise and bursts of energy. Arch lets the abstract contour, and the initial color, of that first exuberant gesture determine the spaces she builds across her large-scale surfaces. There’s a freedom, and a sense of play, that is expansive and engaging. The shapes produced, asymmetrical arrangements of curving silhouettes meeting hard angles, refer to both landscape and the body. There are horizon lines, sometimes, and maybe even perspective, with interior walls and windows creating a stage-like space in some pieces. But it’s all very biological, and human-scaled. Though composed of odd color combinations and non-objective references, there’s always a sense of welcome.

In “Debut” the initial splash was black and gray, but only a fragment remains to be seen towards the center of the canvas. The other blacks in the composition, placed at some distance, are hard-edged and angular, or comprised of stippled dots that create cloud-like veils. Some of the red slivers curve and bulge like surreal lips; though completely non-figurative, there’s a sense here of the human body, of social display and observation.
“Plunge” and “Night Boardwalk” are more aquatic, and yet as different as night and day. In the former we have a wide expanse of light blue, with glimmering yellowish highlights and darker teal eddies. Floating across this swell are various items; they might be islands at sea, or plankton seen under a microscope. Hardly as busy as it sounds, the whole undulating surface seems harmonious and connected, whether it’s under a glass slide or an aerial photograph of ocean waves.

“Night Boardwalk” is darker and more mysterious, a nighttime spent on the shoreline. The splash is still rust, but this one vibrates orange and coral shades against an orchid night sky. Whatever happens on this night beach, one feels, might burst into phosphorescent light briefly before fading back to black.

Shawn Hill
shill@fas.harvard.edu
9/5/2015

Adria Arch - Paintings, by Shawn Hill, art critic
2015