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Martha Diamond
Orange Light

Across the River

Cityscape (Blue Shadow #3)


A Hip Homage to New York
by Ilka Scobie

"Martha Diamond: From Three Decades," Oct. 28-Dec. 18, 2004, at the New York Studio School, 8 West 8th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011

Martha Diamond's boldly gestural paintings span the course of three decades, and this meticulously curated show provides a chance to view an accomplished artist's evolution. The show features trios and pairs of large paintings as well as a series of 14 small oils on masonite, all united by their startling originality.

Diamond has frequently used small-scale studies to clarify her vision, and paints the larger works with a performance artist's intensity. What Diamond explains as "stuff just beginning to develop" commenced with her painting of idiosyncratic frames around older images. Leaping from the playful to the profound, this series ensconces each enigmatic image with jewel-like precision.

Obliterating details and experimenting with transparency, Diamond's coolly distinct iconography touches on a wide range of subjects, from Doric nobility and Russian constructivism to street art.

The earliest large paintings in the show date from the 1980s. Orange Light's obdurate skyline, silhouetted against a burning sunset, suggests the view after a summer storm. The revved-up romance continues in the roughly abstracted Across the River, in which buildings transmute into raw stalagmites.

Verticality is further explored and expanded in the three works of the ‘90s. The unlikely palette of Cityscape (Blue Shadow #3) creates a loose and luscious urban hallucination. The later Black, White, Gray Cityscape imbues brick and glass with mystical shimmer and cathedral-ike grandeur. The jazzy sky's agitated brushstrokes, which recall El Greco's crazy clouds, is a gorgeous dreamy skyscraper vision.

Diamond's latest work explores the experience of a post-9/11 New York. The urban grid is ever-changing -- boxlike high-rises sprout along the downtown streets as the leveled Twin Towers await resurrection. The architectonic images of the three new canvases flip between energetic abstraction and fractured cityscapes. Forms and colors are constantly moved by fluid manipulation of paint.

One of these untitled works presents an almost pastoral calligraphy, with a simplified palette creating a lyrical surprise. The remaining pairs feature brilliant colors highlighted by white swathes bursting with energy. Could the pulse of red spilling between columns be the River Styx? Recognition of images never obscures the powerful painting itself; in fact, it osculates architectural abstractions and figuration.

Since Diamond's career began, her work has been ahead of the curve, which is why the earliest canvases in this show remain compelling and absolutely contemporary. She continues to integrate elements of painting in a new ways, as evidenced by her very latest canvases. By dueling between the symbolic and cogent, Diamond portrays her city with impassioned probity and her work continues to be a vital force in the reinvigoration of painting.

ILKA SCOBIE is a poet.