For those of us who grew up admiring both L.A. pop conceptualism and Bay Area figurative funk, pattern-and-decoration was always a weirdly guilty pleasure. It didn't feel quite right to admire all that sunny repetition, all those cheap graphics disguised as fine art. And when the decoration was removed from P&D, you were usually left with little more than aloof minimalism, often made all the colder when its elements were machined to OCD perfection.
For her latest exhibition, lakewater, at Andrea Schwartz Gallery in San Francisco, Robin Kandel ditches the decoration without giving viewers that minimalist chill. Her focus is on only one type of pattern, moiré, an effect caused when repeated rows of parallel lines overlap one another at a slight angle. Her acrylic-on-lauan paintings and works on paper, on view through February 24, 2012, are oddly warm, shimmering and glowing in the gallery's abundant natural light.
As the title of her show suggests, Kandel's paintings take water as their starting point, but the constraints the artist has imposed on herself turn them into more than mere representations of lake surfaces or, for that matter, mere abstractions. We could try to compare her work to our memories of early-morning or late-afternoon light on the surfaces of lakes we've visited, but the surfaces of her paintings are more interesting places to explore than the dusty corners of our nostalgia.
You wouldn't think there'd be so much depth to a group of images whose pigment lays so close to the surface; we can't see the grain of the lauan beneath her brush strokes, but you sense the wood is close. Kandel doesn't give us much color variety, either, limiting herself to just four -- soft blue, muddy green, off-white and a shade of brown that reads almost as black when adjacent to any of the other three.
In some of her paintings, blue backgrounds dominate, not so much the color of water but the light that plays upon it, as if filtered through overhanging branches and leaves. In such pieces, the moirés play the role of shadows, but in other works they appear as jagged slashes of greens and browns, produced, one guesses, by the algaefied color of the lake water that percolates through the painting's surface and draws the eye.
Kandel's brushwork, though, might be the key to what makes these paintings so engaging and successful. By definition, Kandel's bands of muted color are precise. After all, if they were not parallel, or even if they were poorly planned, the moiré effect she's after would be undermined. But Kandel is a painter, which means each of those lines is unique, despite their need for collective uniformity. A certain amount of precision must obviously come into play, but not to the exclusion of the human touch. Thus the bands that together make up the surfaces of her illusory lake surfaces are riddled with blemishes and imperfections, as organic and surprising as the subject that's inspired her.
Robin Kandel's lakewater runs through February 24, 2012, at Andrea Schwartz Gallery in San Francisco. For more information visit asgallery.com.