by Robin Dluzen
Zg Gallery is hosting an exhibition of new acrylic paintings by Martina Nehrling. On display are works that continue the manner of uniform, multi-color mark-making that Nehrling has employed for quite some time: controlled, single-colored brushstrokes that are roughly four times as long as they are wide. When one’s marks never change, and the palette is open to any and all vivid colors offered by the range of acrylics, how is it possible that the paintings can continue to broach new territory? Happily, Nehrling’s new paintings are proof that it’s absolutely possible.
The large scale paintings in the exhibition are like fields of multi-color, harnessing the mark-making for rhythmic, sweeping landscapes. Here, the marks are small parts of an illusionistic whole; truly in how mark-making generally operates, in the large paintings Nehrling’s marks are a means contributing to a larger end. The paintings like Garden Drunk (four feet by twelve feet), are something to behold, and to awe, in a Pollock-ian manner. Or perhaps, more accurately, they are more like the sweeping all-overness of Pollock, executed with the color compiling of Pointillism, where up close, the hues are individual, but from a distance, they combine and interact in an optical experience.
But of the works in this exhibition, the small paintings bring viewers in close; though they use the very same marks as their larger counterparts, their scale makes them a separate experience, as if they are made with a wholly different painting language. Mainly, the difference is a compositional one: instead of the marks being parts of a whole as they are in the large scale, on these little canvases the forms are shapes, rather than mere marks. They are no longer what renders the whole subject, but are themselves individually so, where the drips and the tiniest inconsistencies are now to be part of the content, rather than solely happy accidents of process. For example, in Nehrling’s 16″ by 10,” untitled work, the white ground prompts the little rectangles to converse with one another. Pastels stacked upon each other are peppered with saturated blues and browns; the horizontal pile of shapes that dominates the canvas is precariously “supported” by a handful of vertical ones along the bottom of the picture plane. This work even embodies a sense of time; an order of application can be deduced by the drips that overlap the marks made before them.
Both the large and small paintings are powerful, and I believe that their proximity to each other and their existence simultaneously in a practice strengthen them both through contrast; the large paintings are supremely optical, while the smaller paintings are more narrative, or even intellectual. And I think that this exploration in scale is what helps sustain this practice of such uniformity.