Harwood Art Museum Exhibition

Feb­May, 2003  New Drawings

Over the decades of her inventive career, artist Marcia Oliver has created a distinctive, consistent  visual language in splashy, contrasting color and monochrome, on large canvases and small  prints, with ceramics and bronzes. Her currently running show at the Harwood Museum of Art in  Taos (M Oliver New Drawings: Honoring the Tao) discloses her current renunciation of color  and enormity “in order to produce effectively, a singular focus, minimizing all distractions” by  “choosing simple materials and acknowledging the primacy of drawing.” The “single focus” highlights the idiosyncrasies of her viewpoint. Her show consists of seventeen small square works on paper, drawings rendered in graphite and ink wash, cast in relief by a dash  of collage and some barely discernable tints of hue. The drawings strongly imply that Oliver’s  continuing preoccupation has been with form, or rather, forms, and their mutual alliances and  quarrels. Her whimsically shifting shapes, their cousins, aunts and distant relations, a veritable cast of  characters, have populated her work all along, restlessly meandering through variously colored  aqueous suspensions. They can seem almost as ripe with meaning as an alphabet, sometimes resembling letters, petro glyphs or runes.In the deceptively simple drawings at the Harwood, these forms take stage center, cast against stark white, circling one another like skaters on a rink. Or they fly off­frame .n all directions. Or they appear to be just entering from the wings. They often come equipped with propelling  appendages, limbs or tails or wheels. The motion they convey confounds expectations­­are they shifting locations or evolving new shapes? They look oddly and often fiercely alive.The viewer is tempted to impute motives to these amoebic mechanical critters. Flow lines,spaces, and semi­frames make insinuations about their relationships. Are they attracted or repelled by the other occupants of the page? They exist in deliberate but obscure juxtaposition. Oliver’s chosen title for her show suggests they could be yin and yang, going each its own way.The language of art has no subject or predicate but does operate through gesture and sign, with an  affinity to the choreographies of species not our own. The critters who inhabit the graceful work  of Marcia Oliver hold a similar inexplicable surprise, soliciting attention in the manner of  elephants parading trunk to tailor a cheetah on the heels of a gazelle.­­

Marilyn Gayle Hoff


– Press Release –
Marcia Oliver
Solo show at Bareiss Gallery in Taos, New Mexico
Exhibit runs November 15-December 15 2012
Opening Reception: Friday, November 23, 2012
Marcia Oliver’s paintings of the last two years unfold in a slow and seductive progression,
becoming ever more ethereal and nuanced in color even as they remain grounded in her
own quirky vocabulary of line and shape. Part of the pleasure of this show is the way the
artist lets the viewer into her process. The first sizable work, “Earth with Fire”, appears to
be a rather tightly controlled riff on a still life, an almost Cubist composition with
quasi-recognizable subject matter (there are suggestions of a table, a fish, plates, and so on)
whose boundaries never quite assume precise shape but melt into each other. In subsequent
paintings, the tinted ground takes over and assumes an ever greater force; I was enthralled
by the way my eyes kept discovering gradations of tone that created a kind of pulse in what
critics are fond of labeling “optical space.” Closer examination reveals the artist at work,
scraping off areas of the canvas and amending her scribbled lexicon so that figures and
ground are in different dialogues with each other. We’re always a little off balance here, but
it’s a kind of pleasurable woozy in- between sensation, like the space that exists between
dreaming and waking.
Oliver has stated that her roots lie in Abstract Expressionism, and indeed her work
partakes of some of the aspects of that movement: a love of spontaneity, obscure but
suggestive imagery, and a certain painterly daring. Whether consciously or not, she also
summons up allusions to earlier artists, notably Cy Twombly, Paul Klee, and Arshile Gorky.
But like the best abstract painters, she finds a way to an imagery and a luminous
contemplative cosmos that are all her own.
-Written by Ann Landi
Contact Information:
Marcia L. Oliver
P.O. Box 456, El Prado, NM 87529