Sharon Feder's rundown warehouses present tension between representation and abstraction

Contemporary painter Sharon Feder, a longtime resident at Ironton Studios and Gallery, is the subject of a good-looking solo there called Topologies, which represents both a continuation of her interest in urban archaeology and a change in direction. The subject matter -- rundown warehouses -- links her work to that of others in the area like Rick Dula and Sarah McKenzie; together, they constitute a veritable school.

Feder, who has been exhibiting for twenty years, previously based her oil-on-board paintings on photos she took of city scenes. For this most recent batch, however, she created an intermediate step by doing small, jewel-like drawings in charcoal, carbon and graphite and using them as studies. That's partly why the recent paintings are more abstracted: In the translation from photo to drawing, many details are dropped, and in the subsequent move from drawing to painting, they're reduced even further.

The final effect is a reconciling of opposites — a chain of them. First, there's the tension between representation and abstraction, with the resulting paintings flipping between the two. Second, there's the tension between the seemingly hard margins of the colors and the expressive and loose handling of the paint, which results in wavy margins. And finally, there are the light or toned-up colors, which are non-naturalistic yet have been used to describe the familiar. An example of a work with all of these traits is "Split" (pictured), one of my favorites in the show.



While I was looking at the paintings, I kept thinking about how much they reminded me of the modernist realist styles that were the representational response to abstract expressionism. Then, in doing a little research on Feder, I learned that she was a student decades ago of the late, great Edward Marecak, who did that kind of work. Marecak's paintings have been collected in depth by the Kirkland Museum, where some are always on display; clearly, he's an influence on Feder's work right up to today.

There are only a couple of days left to catch Topologies at Ironton (3636 Chestnut Place, irontonstudios.com); it closes on January 12.

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