Angela Leach: Abstract Repeat
By Carol-Ann Ryan
Angela Leach: Abstract Repeat: Circles and Shapes, New Work
February 6 – 27, 2010 Angela Leach’s reputation as an artist is built on her precise and brightly coloured optical paintings that are in the tradition of Bridget Riley and recall weaving and textile design, specifically. Leach has painted her AR series, which stands for Abstract Repeat, since 1999. These works are characterized by carefully painted lines used to organize a spectrum of colours into bold patterns. Viewed at a distance, they seem to pulsate and shift on their surfaces; viewed up close they reveal the complex system developed by the artist. The meticulous compositions and delicate application of line have made for intriguing works with an historical reference, but are open to endless possibilities.
In this recent exhibition, Leach pushed her practice to another level. Two large rectangular acrylic paintings, AR-Shapes and Circles #1 and AR-Shapes and Circles #2, mark a new direction as the compositions rely on figure and ground relationships. Both are anchored by a macro-version, wave-patterned background with floating chains of colourful circular and linear elements, arranged in the middle and foreground. Although AR-Shapes and Circles clearly shows the artist’s willingness to experiment, the use of shaped canvases in this exhibition literally expands Leach’s aesthetic concerns, magnifying her forms, and using form itself, to develop a physical, rather than purely optical, dimension to her paintings. These works are bold and clean, posing a whole new set of questions about the potential of abstraction, the marriage of form and format, and the investigation of colour effects.
AR-Shape # 6 is an amplified slice of her earlier AR works, maintaining the optical effects achieved by colour placement, while at 33 x 91-½ x 2-¼ inches in scale, offering a new physical reality. A simple grouping of red, green and blue applied in a wave-like form is complicated by shade and tonal arrangements that push outward from the surface. The optical effects, coupled with the sculptural depth of the support, present an object that encourages viewers to peek around it to experience it fully. The horizontal format draws the eye along its length, following its curves and, for a brief moment, allowing the viewer to take a ride on the sea of colour and composition. Imagine the immersive potential of this work on an even larger scale.
One painting in the show finds itself positioned between the ideas that went into the compositional structures of the AR-Shapes and Circles and AR-Shapes. At 45-1/4 x 88-3/4 x 2 ¼ inches and organized on a diagonal, AR-Shape #8 embodies colour, depth and dimension as a result of its physical, but also representational, qualities. Two tubular forms, one placed directly atop the other, gently curve upwards. Each tube is delineated by short, coloured stripes, and the two appear entwined, struggling for dominant placement along the wall. The result is a painting full of movement and energy but also tension, generated by vibrant and carefully placed colour.
This body of work signals an exciting new direction for Leach. Continued exploration of the relationship between form, format and colour effects will take her paintings in new directions and contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding this type of abstraction. She should be applauded for continuing to mine its possibilities.
Carol-Ann M. Ryan is a Toronto-based writer, arts educator and collections manager. She has written for C Magazine, Border Crossings, and Canadian Art Online. She is an instructor at the Toronto School of Art, and educator at the Art Gallery of Ontario and Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.