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Hap Tivey / Gregg Renfrow
at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Elizabeth Leach’s recent pairing of light sculptor Hap Tivey and painter Gregg Renfrow at her gallery was an inspired one. Both artists hail from the Southern California Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 1970s: a sun-drenched marriage of minimalism and color-field painting promulgated most notably by James Turrell, and born of the expansive vistas for which the Golden State is renowned. In his show “Sands of the Ganges,” the Portland-born Tivey (who lived for many years in L.A. before relocating to New York) delivered a mesmerizing étude on light, shadow and color. His painted canvases are backlit by LED (light-emitting diode) lights and glow with preternatural saturation. For several years Tivey studied at a Buddhist monestary in Japan, and indeed the works can induce a certain Zen-like blissed-out state, with their inscrutable interplay of form and formlessness, and of vaguely recognizable shapes juxtaposed with mysterious shadows. Some of the works have a muscular sense of organic geometry (one sees a hint of Robert Motherwell in Sand Grain and Jules Olitski in Galaxy Particles), while works such as Wavelength of Speech are more lyrical and oblique, evoking the amplitudes of sound waves, or more poetically, the aurora borealis. Marks No Marks shows its minimalist lineage in its blue and yellow halves separated by an unforgiving dividing line, while Tathagata is the show’s one misstep: its silhouetted humanoid form seemed an over-literal attempt at lily-gilding.

Bay Area artist Gregg Renfrow credits Raphael for the inspiration for his current body of work. As he tells it, he was in London’s National Gallery standing in front of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, when he was overcome by the sensation “of pure pleasure in my body.” Aiming in his own work to reconstitute an overall chromatic impression of Raphael’s painting, Renfrow has created moody, impressionistic atmospheres in polymer, pigment, and cast acrylic: media that appear to drip off of the paintings’ sides and turn to glass or resin, as if flash-frozen at the moment of congealment. The works’ refreshingly prosaic titles—Maroon over Yellow; Green-Yellow-Green—show the artist’s concern for form and color qua content. Together, Renfrow’s and Tivey’s works celebrate a “groovy-baby-far-out” retro sensibility that is once again au courant as a new crop of gallery-goers, weaned on glowing rectangles and the pretty colors that come out of them, find fresh seduction in the visceral tricks two California old-timers can pull out of their own glow-boxes and pleasure swoons.

–Richard Speer


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