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A Centrality of Color

Mon, 02/05/2024 - 13:59
"Color in Three Dimensions" is an example of the way Hector Leonardi incorporates paint as a collaged element in his compositions.
Jenny Gorman

It has been said, even in these pages, that a Hector Leonardi solo show is an event, a chance for an eager audience to examine as well as purchase his work. 

The artist has lived in Bridgehampton for many years and spent time in Montauk before that. Although he now chooses the solitude he has used for painting across the past couple of decades, he was once a teacher as well, at the Parsons School of Design. His shows in the city were popular among not only his former students but also a mix of urban art intelligentsia and the hoi polloi. This is his third solo show for the Drawing Room gallery in East Hampton.

Just like in those earlier shows, red dots are already present on the gallery walls, indicating an eagerness to acquire the work merely days into its run. Part of Mr. Leonardi's mystique is his general shyness around the media. He likes his art to speak for him.

He is now in his 90s, and this exhibition finds him still experimenting with using paint fragments as collage, and painted surfaces as assemblage elements on canvases that have paint directly applied to them or are aggregations of the paint he removes from his work table and applies to the canvas.

This iteration has compositions inspired by the seasons and the use of color. The presentation itself recognizes color's centrality to this grouping with the title "Orchestrating Color." 

The exhibition isn't huge, in either size or number. The mean canvas dimensions are about 24 by 24 inches, with some smaller but no less striking pieces. The showstopper is definitely also the largest one: "Color in Three Dimensions" is 66 inches square.

While other works incorporate collage elements, this piece is made entirely of the artist's paint chips, its lengths precise at six inches with varying, and narrower, widths. They are attached so that they layer loosely over their neighbor to the right like tree bark. Yet the placement is much more organized. The precise length of each paint shard works to create a kind of grid on the canvas formed by an implied line where each one ends along a row. It makes it seem both organic and regimented, an unusual juxtaposition. 

The strips themselves are riotous amalgamations of color, based in blue, greens, lavender, and red, shot through sporadically with pops of orange and richly patterned in dots, splotches, linear elements, and other motifs. The individual strips hint at larger compositions that have been disrupted by the paint's removal from the whole and decontextualized in this new pattern. 

It's a wonder to behold, a kind of delightful trick, grounded in geometry and color theory. The familiar push-pull concepts of Josef Albers, with whom Mr. Leonardi studied during his graduate years at Yale University, are still evident seven decades later.

The gallery's description of his approach -- setting up "tonal harmonies with the sophistication of a musical score that culminate in a singular aesthetic expression" -- is hard to argue with. It further describes this painting as "a crescendo of Leonardi's playful, inventive process" that "emphasizes the capacity of color itself to be the subject of a work of art." 

The installation is dynamic and each work is exactly where it belongs.

The other works in the show either share this exuberance or take an opposite tack, choosing subtler tones to create a similar study of color relationships in a different light. Sometimes they appear to refer to things like a Cubist kind of figure or a Mark Rothko setup of hierarchical boxes. But mostly the color seems just about color.

In the smaller gallery facing the street, there are works by Mats Gustafson, Alice Hope, Kathryn Lynch, Racelle Strick, and John Torreano. Both exhibitions will continue through March 31.

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