Renee Radell’s Renaissance

Paul Bridgewater was a seminal figure in the downtown art scene in the 1980’s. From his pioneering gallery in the East Village to his grown-up gallery in SoHo, Bridgewater brought consistently fresh and edgy artists to the public view. Stepping back from the spotlight for ten years and working as a private dealer, he now makes a bold entrance into the LES scene showing the work of an 83-year-old painter. What?, you may ask. Where is the “new media,” the transgressive gender role-play, the ironic hipster eye roll at the world that feeds it? Is this painting?

Yes, luscious, rich, mature, thoughtful paintings. Renee Radell’s painting career started in 1952. Her work gained national recognition in the mid 60’s and she’s been painting ever since. The exhibition at 154 Smart Clothes (Bridgewater’s new gallery named for the former store it occupies) is a radical new direction for Radell. Known primarily for portraiture and politically conscious satire, this group of works attempts to deal head-on with some of the primary concerns of post-war painters. Color, form–the tension between them–and the battle for primacy between image and abstraction are the main topics explored. Thankfully, there is not a bit of irony in the entire gallery.

While all sensuous and lavish in their love of color, a few of these paintings stand out as particularly powerful. Eventide is one of these. Referencing landscapes there is a lovely interplay between atmospheric mark-making and the firm strong black marks that clearly show the hand of the artist. The strain between these contrasting languages of marks and color is quite effective. All of the paintings in which Radell has used these dark punctuation gestures are strong and stand out.

Not every one is a knock-out. There are a few that are too sweet in color and gentle in paint handling for my taste, but by and large this is a solid, thoughtful and substantive exhibition.  Leave it to Paul Bridgewater to mine the depths of experience and time to present us an overlooked artist whose work defies the trends. Hopefully this is a omen of a return to the artistic values and craftsmanship that have been too long out of style. Hats off to 154 Smart Clothes!

“Renee Radell–New Directions” runs through July 7 at 154 Smart Clothes, 154 Stanton Street, NY

Caption: Eventide 2012- 60 x 48. Mixed media on canvas.