Natural Talent

Painter’s distinctive, minimalist techniques create landscapes that evoke peacefulness.

In a statement for the new exhibition “Persistent Image” at Keny Galleries, painter Stephen Pentak discusses artists such as Josef Albers and Roman Opalka, who each devoted years to series focused on one subject.

“These painters had differing reasons for their persistence, but, in each case, something happens that would not have, were the series shorter,” Pentak writes.

Where as Opalka sought to fill canvases with a count of every number through infinity, and Albers explored the visual possibilities within the shape of a square, Pentak has lent to natural landscapes a similar devotion to subject and purpose.

Through the years, Pentak has honed his distinctive technique for mark making and experimenting with light and composition, aiming for “the balance between representation and invention.”

Although his process continues to evolve, his latest works exude a Zen-like calm and proficiency. The paintings put one in a peaceful mindset — the best vantage for considering the nuances of image, paint application and texture.

His approach is rigorously consistent. Starting with a base layer of golden yellow, Pentak builds densely forested landscapes by dragging palette knives and large brushes across a wood- panel surface. He digs down to the yellow base to form a hard horizon between land and the still, reflective bodies of water that take up much of his compositions. The backgrounds are panoramic, while the foregrounds are dotted by sparse collections of trees — often birches, with their white bark formed by the delicate lines of individual bristles.

His overall aesthetic is clean and minimal but also light and gestural, as seen in the way daintily daubed leaves hover around the foreground trees without the benefit of being attached by branches. The choice to add elements in close proximity against a distant horizon helps to bridge whatever psychic distance might be created by the austere nature of his style.

One is also drawn by the vivid, subtly blended coloring and simple, elegant beauty found in each piece.

The works I.VII and I.XI focus on the “magic hour” just before sunset, resulting in a sky washed by warm, seductive yellows and pinks. In II.IV, the colors of a fall sunset work into the trunks of the trees in the foreground.

With the new paintings, Pentak also expands on his textural experiments with an exertive reduction process that manifests most strongly around the edges of the panels. In these instances, the base yellow rises up through abraded layers of other hues, encroaching on the landscape compositions and further defining the line between the inventions of the artist and the natural world that inspired them.

Natural Talent

April 22, 2012

By Melissa Starker