Air Touch

Dale Chisman unveils his latest abstractions at Rule Gallery.

Rule has hung the most recently completed of Chisman's large paintings, "Palabra," on the wall that faces viewers as they enter the gallery. It's colorful, and it has a clear graphic power that can easily be seen by the occupants of the cars that go whizzing by on Broadway. (That's how I first encountered the show, and it made me think to myself, "Wow.")

I understand the decision to put "Palabra" where it is, but after touring the show with Chisman, I think it makes more sense to begin with the oldest painting in the group, "History, Part 7," which is hung on the south wall of the main part of the gallery, then proceed to the three other large paintings in this room before returning to "Palabra." After that, consider the "Three Conjugations Series," a group of small paintings that were done after the large ones. "Palabra" anticipates the "Conjugations" paintings, which have been hung near it.

Back to "History, Part 7," an oil on linen. Principally umber brown and dark ultra-marine blue with lines, bars and shapes in white, it represents a problem painting for Chisman. "I was struggling with the piece," he explains. "There was no white in it at all. I was going to paint it over entirely in white, and I angrily began slashing in white paint. Then I thought, 'Hey, this is really starting to work.' I pulled in the ultra-marine, and it really came together."

"7 Days," by Dale Chisman, oil on linen.
"7 Days," by Dale Chisman, oil on linen.
"Palabra," oil on linen.
"Palabra," oil on linen.


Through March 8, 303-777-9537
Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway

Stylistically, "History, Part 7" and the rest of the stuff at Rule are examples of neo-abstract expressionism. Chisman doesn't like this appraisal and bristles at the comparison, but as he ticks off the attributes of his painting process, his denial falls under its own weight. Though he says he has "never thought of his work as being abstract expressionist at all," he says he uses "automatist brushwork" and chooses his colors instinctually. He points out that his paintings contain "the coincidence of unconsciousness and consciousness." Plus, the paintings are "mostly flat and not really about implied space." Doesn't this description sound pretty much like a working definition of abstract expressionism?

One style that Chisman does acknowledge as an influence is color-field abstraction, which itself can be seen as a type of abstract expressionism. "I think my work relates to color-field painting," he says. "I like to first draw on a painting and then put a field down and bring the drawings back out in the field. I like to feel that open expanse of space, of color, and I don't want to fill it up with mark making." The underpainted drawings are frequently visible through the color field, and Chisman says he has never used the visible underpainting in a more obvious or extensive way than he has in "7 Days."

Without a doubt, the most Chismany of these Chismans is "Otten Notten," done principally in red, with lines and shapes in black. The shapes suggest the figure, but only vaguely. On the left is a line drawing that resembles bones, on the right a black amorphous shape that might be a head. In "Vessel 2," painted in a delicious olive-gray, a shape in black and brown suggests a vase, which in turn suggests a torso. Chisman explains that in the '60s, he was a figural abstractionist and that all along he has looked to the figure -- albeit in its most reductive expression, the empty vessel -- for inspiration.

Now's the time to more carefully check out "Palabra." Although there are fewer identifiable lines in this piece than in any of the others, they are more dominant here. This is because Chisman has used strong colors like red and yellow that stand out against a mostly bluish, icy-white field, and because the lines are robustly and thickly painted. The palette and the shapes of the lines, including a zigzag and an S-curve, give the painting a retro-modern aspect and recall the work of Miró, if only subtly. (Though Chisman doesn't currently list Miró among his stylistic mentors, he has in the past.)

It's easy to see how "Palabra" would lead Chisman to paint the small and intimate "Three Conjugations Series" paintings, which are distinguished only by number titles from "#1" to "#5." However, there is something unusual about these paintings: They suggest landscapes. Each is divided into two parts by a horizontal division between two color fields. The looping lines that run off the edges at the top and bottom reinforce the landscape reference, since they could be read as trees -- though that's not what Chisman intended. The lines might also be interpreted as figures in the landscape.

The colors Chisman uses for these small paintings are much wilder than those in the large paintings. In "#2," avocado green is combined with burnt orange for a very '60s-'70s look. For "#3," it's grape and acid green -- also retro-groovy. Interestingly, these nostalgic color choices represent a current trend not only in art, but in fashion and interior design.

The five little "Conjugations" are the successors to the five major paintings at Rule. Taken together, the two distinct bodies of work demonstrate to one and all how relentlessly innovative yet oddly consistent Chisman is. And since it will be a couple years until he gets a shot like this again, it makes sense to take the trouble to see this one before it closes in a few short weeks.

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