Mark Emerson: “The Shape of Rhythm” Tom Leaver: “Where” at JayJay Gallery

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Mark Emerson
Run Hide Fight, 2014, Mark Emerson
Polymer on Canvas, 50″ x 50″
Photo: courtesy JayJay Gallery

Just because art movements lose their urgency over time doesn’t mean they necessarily lose their pleasure. Painters Mark Emerson and Tom Leaver both work in genres that have been well-tilled: colorful geometries in the case of Emerson, and abstracted landscape in the case of Leaver. But both find unique angles to advance their inquiry. Paired together here despite their disparate styles, the two Northern California painters each impress with their understanding and manipulation of layers, both historical and physical. That layering is most evident with Emerson, whose work employs bright, flat polymer paint and overlapping geometries to often dizzying effect, shifting colors where the shapes intersect. In his most dynamic works, he overlaps rectangular grids with irregular, diagonal polygons, couched within each other. In some works, he even adds to the systematic chaos by adding different textures to the various colorforms. In Running Away (2014), the dominant color is yellow, which appears in various hues, offset by shards of lavender and green; in Run Hide Fight (2014), the colors range across the spectrum. With their density and complexity, his works put the blocky forms of Albers through the shredder, creating color studies for an information-saturated age. At once meticulous and improvisatory, evincing an obvious fascination with rhythm, his work recalls the jazzy, hard-edged abstractions of SoCal painter Karl Benjamin. But Emerson’s drumbeat is more frenetic; using bits and strips of color almost as collage, he splices them together like a sound editor.

Oakland-based Tom Leaver, by contrast, makes paintings that are gauzy and lushly atmospheric. Leaver’s previous works were abstractions using distilled hues from nature-pale blues and greens-that seemed awash with light at their center, with simple organic forms clustered at their edges. Leaver’s new works are immediately recognizable as landscapes, but retain some of the earlier works formal structure. Spanning from large-scale to intimate-one work from the eloquent series titled Remember This Moment is all of 10 x 8 inches-all these works feature a winding river at their bottom, which is framed, and partly obscured, by an overgrowth of verdant greenery. Squiggly smears of orange and yellow amid the foliage-Leaver paints with his fingers, wearing gloves-hint at floral blooms, or perhaps flames. Hovering over the center of each terrain, and canvas, is a cloud of pale white light, seemingly illuminating it. All of these works suggest dreamscapes, in which evocations of earlier art historical visions, natural fecundity, and personal memory seem to meld together, in a tantalizing suspension of the ineffable.