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Francis Celentano at Laura Russo

Francis Celentano was in his mid-30s in the mid-1960s, on the ground floor of the nascent Op Art movement that was to become his métier. With unflagging invention and discipline (there are no holes in his exhibition history between then and today), the painter, now 79, has continued his explorations into Op’s visual kinesthetics. His latest exhibition at Laura Russo shows that, far from resting on his laurels, the Seattle-based artist is at peak form, producing vital, vibratory abstractions that are simultaneously meticulous and exuberant, as the best Op Art is wont to be. In the current offering, Celentano’s leitmotif consists of variations on the theme “Le Cirque”: vertical waves of precisely aligned, gradually modulating colors that evoke not only the circus’ cotton-candy innocence, but its darker sides, too—creepy clowns and dizzying, three-ring excess. Any circus worth its salt harbors a garish, surrealistic quality on the underbelly of its happy superficials, and this comes through in Celentano’s palette, a brash mélange of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors sparring with outrageous neons and pastels with a complete (and generally welcome) disregard for any sense of chromatic propriety. Not every painter could get away with these unorthodox, often antagonistic, combinations, but Celentano knows how to stop just short of the line where flamboyance curdles into bad taste.

With his flat surfaces, the painter lets color and form do the heavy lifting. In Variation 14 he shades from blood-orange to sunflower to saffron to chartreuse, in Variation 11 from navy to black and back again, all with both elegance and assurance. These pushing, pulling, mutating S-curves might send you reaching for the Dramamine, but that is what they are intended to do: induce a heightened visual experience, grounded in a Dave Hickeyian delight in the possibilities of the picture plane itself. In Celentano’s variations—as well as in the work of up-and-coming Op’ers like Las Vegas stripe painter Tim Bavington and Portland, Ore. abstractionist Eva Lake—we see structure and stricture circumventing narrative, making a case for pleasure and transcendence through the power of geometry and repetition.



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