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Abstract Ideas

Three current shows reveal the perils of abstraction in painting

On the other hand, Forsythe's very simple drawings of fleshy, organism-like shapes are as unilluminating as they are unfussy. And Aylsworth, the show's all-out abstract painter, doesn't appear to have any idea where he's headed when he works. He begins with a simple wash of color, and shapes emerge and compete for attention as he builds up the work. Viewed as highly magnified, the shapes may be seen as microbial worms and chains of cells, each with their own agenda in a disordered body. Viewed as actual size, they look like a mess of soft plastic toys for an infant. These paintings are willing to be imperfect. Unlike Gioiosa's and Homad's works, they are comfortable with discordant color and overripe shapes, using vulgarity as visual style. But Aylsworth's cutesy titles (Butterscotch Candy, Do Do That Voodoo) seem to admit we still have to look elsewhere if we want more than a sugar fix.

If the art market is good, collectors salivate over works of fine-tuned beauty or overdeveloped style. These paintings find validity as status objects. But I would venture a guess that the larger public wants -- and deserves -- something that's more than a simple accessory. The truly brave abstract artist is the one whose work doesn't forego conceptual rigor, someone who may be attracted to the prettiness of paint -- and perhaps its marketability as well -- but still isn't afraid to find a new validity for it, a hard won harmony or an object lesson. Unfortunately, not much of that can be found in the current displays. More's the pity, since such stubborn painters are the ones who have goals that are truly in line with the cravings of their audience -- they want beauty plus.

"Transitory Reconciliation" will show through May 11 at Lynn Goode Gallery, 2719 Colquitt, 526-5966; "Floating" will show though May 10 at Sally Sprout Gallery, 223 Westheimer, 526-6461; "Paintings and Works on Paper" will show through May 4 at Inman Gallery, 1114 Barkdull, 529-9676.

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