Eleanor Wood at JayJay Review

Read the original article on Squarecylinder by David Olivant.

Eleanor Wood’s austere, elegant works on paper continue to develop at a measured, incremental pace, typical of much minimalist-inflected abstraction, and as such, they demand a corresponding deceleration on the part of the viewer. Like “slow food,” Wood suggests on her website, we can again have “slow art” as an antidote to the zeitgeist of permanent fast forward.

One contributing factor to this slowness is the scale. Her drawings are small and square; they range in size from 9 x 9 inches up to 26.5 x 26.5 inches. Those measurements, however, denote only the paper dimensions; the area she works is substantially smaller and near the center, which makes the drawings readable only at close range. What you see are luminous watercolor and oil bar stains layered with horizontal strips of waxed paper whose tendency to float forward is offset by notching at the edges, which fades into neat rows of pinpricks, either slightly recessed or raised, depending on whether the paper was punctured from the front or the back. Colors range between venetian reds and muted blue-greys and from indistinct, hard-to-name neutrals to various shades of olive drab.

The exhibit is composed of two series, Re-alignments and Sequels, with Sequels coming earlier. From the standpoint of the artist’s development the titles themselves are spot-on. The earlier series reprises much of what immediately preceded it in her 2010 show at Don Soker; they exhibit the same deftness and restraint that have been hallmarks of Wood’s oeuvre. There are diverting forays into expanded formats, which, on occasion, as in #s 9 and 7, suggest spectral faces beneath the surfaces, now loosely pegged by a mesh-like grid.
Given the severity of means this feels like more of a diversion than a sequel, and I question whether it results more from my own surrealist proclivities than any heterodoxy on the part of an artist for whom consistency is nearly everything, if one takes that word to refer to relative viscosities, translucencies and thicknesses, in addition to a tendency toward inventive repetitions.
Realignments Series #2, watercolor, waxed paper, oil on cotton paper, 22.5 x 22.5″

Realignments, I think, refers to vertically bifurcated images (#s 5, 8 and 9) where we see that the horizontal bands straddling each half fail to line up at the expected junctures in the pictures’ centers. The same failure to align, which feels daring in the context of so much gently insistent geometry, occurs in #s 3 and 5, only now the mismatch is pulled back towards the outer vertical edges of the square, as if the magnetic pull of #s 5, 8 and 9 had been reversed.

Despite the logic of titling the series this way I detect a more thoroughgoing realignment in the fact that, for the first time, many of the central squares (#s 10, 5, 2 and 4) have effectively congealed or solidified, as if the waxy medium which originally suspended and separated the layers — allowing them to float in a type of translucency — has stiffened, thickened and compressed. These centrally located forms have a density completely alien to most of Wood’s earlier drawings, making it feel as if light had been converted to mass. In this sense they remind me of a celestial implosion, a reversal of creation or a dying star. This re-alignment might be more properly labeled a reabsorption. The cosmic pulse has slowed to near nothing, like a magnetic force about to reverse its polarity. Light is being sucked into mass or density.

While some of the artist’s earlier works suggest a scale much more expansive than the edges of the paper, these look like they may have been enlarged from something much smaller. And though the artist embraces slowness, the fact that this newly found solidity suggests inertia is curiously subverted by the visual and functional correspondence between these compact squares, with their pinprick edges, and likeness to various types of computer chips.

Sequel Series # 9, watercolor, waxed paper, oil and pencil on cotton paper, 26.5 x 26.5″

These devices, like Wood’s images, come in a variety of formats depending on function, including something called a “pin-grid” array: a square chip with pins arranged in concentric squares. Without unduly stretching this tentative analogy, it seems clear that the insistence on slowness, almost to the point of stasis, where the pulse is now hardly a flicker, has paradoxically invoked a form of communication, a type of code that is instantaneous rather than sequential.
Formally this means that these square chips or processors “occupy” the space of the paper surround/support in an inherently problematic, potentially impossible-to-quantify fashion. Superficially what was once embedded in its support is now floating at an implied but un-measurable distance in front of it. Through the conversion of light into mass, we see the optically improbable and conceptually impossible fusion of two heterogeneous categories. Mass properly belongs to the realm of touch, and it is clearly haptic, while light is clearly optic and belongs to the realm of sight. Light is the only known thing that is without mass. The suggestion, albeit subdued at present, that light and mass are somehow representable on the same surface is surely more radical than a mere re-alignment.

One of the enduring virtues of Wood’s work is that with the slightest tweaking of the formal armory, and the persistence in re-calibrating our sight to increasingly subtle variations in value, color and surface texture, entirely new and disparate worlds can be evoked. I am not suggesting that these new worlds are more than implied, more than merely hypothetical, only that these possibilities afford the work a charm out of which spring multiple patterns of association, not just those that I have chosen to adumbrate.


Where: JayJay, 5520 Elvas Ave., Sacramento

When: Through May 23, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday

Cost: Free


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