Elise Ferguson: “Citron” at Romer Young Gallery

SAN FRANCISCO

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“Deuce,” 2016, Elise Ferguson, Pigmented plaster on panel, 30″ x 60″
Photo: courtesy Romer Young Gallery

In her second solo show at Romer Young Gallery, Elise Ferguson continues her exploration of Op-esque architectural abstractions rendered in a magnetically attractive palette of soft, rich colors balanced with blacks, grays and creams. Made using a process that is as sculptural as it is painterly, these 21st century ‘portable frescoes’ offer very different viewing experiences from a distance and from close up. The quirky, inventive geometric figures that fill these fields seem at first glance to be precise and calculated—her designs originate in a Photoshop-generated file—but Ferguson’s method of making engenders surprisingly handmade results. On a primed board, 10-15 layers of pigmented plaster are laid down; although each one is smoothed with a mason’s precision, she allows the panel’s edges to become irregular, suggesting the deckle of a sheet of paper. Parts of the design are masked off; more layers are added. (When the masking is removed, a subtle profile of relief is created.) Finally, Ferguson creates the parts of the composition that are rendered in delicate lines, still using a tinted plaster—squeezing it through the surface of a special silkscreen. Shimmering like a moiré pattern, subtle irregularities and blobs in the lines indicate where one printed area overlaps another, as she joins designs together to create larger forms.

Over time, Ferguson has built up a personal library of such screens, describing their visual connection in her paintings as a form of ‘looping’—a term more associated with film, or sound. The most compelling works here suggest the possibility of repetition that contains infinite variation. This is accomplished either within the confines of a single panel—Citron’s ballet of densely packed yellow and grey ovals and rectangles is a fine example—or, in the case of Deuce and King Lounge (all works 2016), in two and three panels, respectively, conjoined into larger compositions. In both of the latter works, forms seemingly continue across the narrow gap between the adjoining panels’ irregular edges, but there is no sense of containment, or the static completion of anything that could be called a pattern. King Lounge’s elongated ovals, cropped, split or stretched, evoke nothing so much as improvised music, stopping and starting: notes held, transformed, or cut off. Like such playing—which requires a mastery achieved through long practice—Ferguson’s paintings are both meticulously planned and full of random, beautiful moments.

—MARIA PORGES