ON TRACK—THE RECENT WORK OF ARTIST MARGARET NOMENTANA
By Ronny Cohen
Abstraction has long been at the core of the art and vision of Margaret Nomentana.
Starting in the early 1970s when she was in art school, Nomentana discovered she relates, and very much so, to the abstract tendencies of Minimalism and Post-Minimalism then in vogue. The stress placed on formal qualities by these reductive movements opened up a great creative adventure for her that she embarked on through the 1970s and into the 1980s.
With energy and enthusiasm she investigated the traditions of painting and drawing as she experimented with different materials like plexiglas, processes including folding and collage, and shapes and patterns like the grid. As scale and installation took on greater importance, Nomentana began to consider her artworks as objects in space and in terms of the surrounding environment. The strong visual impulse informing her art is evident as well in the accomplished work she has done in the design field.
Minimalism serves as a general aesthetic touchstone in the recent work. The artist herself says she thinks about what she is doing in "formalist terms". Using lines, shapes, and colors and elements of painted and inked surfaces and collage, Nomentana has developing her own distinctive style of abstract paintings and drawings.
Both the canvases and works on paper are found to pack a keen visual punch. These dynamic compositions in a word--deliver. On what can be termed a connotative level, they hit the high spot. In viewing her work the mind's-eye is taken up with thoughts and experiences beyond the universe of pure forms--the semantic domain of Minimalism.
What first appear as lines in paintings can and do become more. For example, there are linear configurations--with the more geometric of them bringing up landscapes and maps, and the more organic of them figures and symbols. The idea of more is also brought forth by the lively arrangements of forms. What we read as figures and grounds can seem to course, and even careen across the surface, toward, away and around edges, shifting in and out, floating and hovering, descending, ascending, and pulsing in space.
Both in the paintings and collage drawings the vivid sensations of movement generated by multi-directional currents and the tensions between what can be perceived as chaos and control, balance and imbalance give to these works the kind of high energy--a verve, a vibe--that can appeal directly to the imagination. The more we begin to see in these compositions and think about them, the more they seem to offer. It's no exaggeration to say that Nomentana has made them that way.
The idea that these are works that we can look at from a number of angles has its parallel in how they are produced by her. Nomentana develops her compositions in the course of working on them from different sides. What becomes the top emerges as part of the evolution of the work, and like every other aspect of her art, happens in the making. The process she employs is as active and high energy as the dynamic compositions she produces with it.
Nomentana usually paints on unstretched, unprimed canvas, on the floor. She does much moving up, down, and around a single work. Tending to work on more than one canvas at a time, she moves between multiple pieces. The cutting and placement of the collage elements is similarly physical. Both painting and drawing for her are involved with gesture--with hand, wrist and arm, the body reaching and crossing into space. Size and scale are elements of the work that she determines according to what to her feels right in terms of her own movements. Given the fact that Nomentana was a serious student of ballet in her youth, it is interesting to consider how the intriguing pictorial structures marking her work with their distinctive rhythmical phrasing record an active working process akin to a sort of visual choreography.
Her working process is also deeply contemplative. It involves a looking for and an arriving at what she has called "the appropriate next step". Working without preconceptions, she needs to find the move and movement necessary for taking the work forward. Through action and reaction Nomentana finds herself at one with her art. Her relationship to nature is similarly grounded. Nomentana divides her time between living in Western Maine, where she maintains her studio, and New York City.
Nature is a dominating feature of the daily environment in which she works. Maine, with its endless woods, broad lakes and towering mountains, beckons. Through a combination of periods of outdoors participation--walking, hiking, kayaking--and of quietude, she establishes what is for her is a right relationship with nature. Some of the drama and compelling mystery belonging to this area of Maine appears to be coming through in the rich variegated colors and imagery that are a feature of the paintings.
New York's urban setting is brought to mind, in turn, in the black and white and value contrasts given emphasis in the drawings and paintings. Titles like Rosh Hashanah and Iraq show how for Nomentana abstract art is a part of life. "My work is influenced by everything that I see or do," the artist says. The more we take stock and measure of the lively pictorial elements provided by Nomentana, the more compelling the experience becomes. Speculation follows. The search for meaning is on. And key to the multiple levels of significance that are contained by her work is a deep and abiding appreciation for the powers of abstraction that the artist harbors.
© 2004 by Ronny Cohen
Poem by Ronny Cohen inspired by the Art of Margaret Nomentana
© 2004 by Ronny Cohen