New work of Review Studios resident artist Warren Rosser finds playful geometric dynamism via some frankly yacht-clubby visual references. Many of the titles are drawn from nautical terminology.
The abstract paintings and mixed-media works here allude to nautical ephemera such as signal pennants, which are designed for maximum visual clarity at a great distance. This trait is apparent in Ship/Shape, his current exhibit at Review Studios, in which the images signify loudly, even across the impressive span of the exhibit space. The interlocking arcs and angles that Rosser incorporates might also be extrapolated from the architecture of ships, but this motif is stripped of context and absorbed into adventurous abstractions that even the most landlocked Kansas Citian can appreciate.
In fact, many of the works are so easy to read that underlying complexities might go unobserved. "Reverse Attachment" is one of four assemblies that Rosser has constructed from pieces of wood, carefully shaped and interlocked, which are wrapped in harmonizing fabrics. The textiles he incorporates have a dark palette, but the playful clash of patterns and weaves creates an unmistakable buoyancy. A construction of brightly colored wooden rods, evoking the crow's nest of a ship, is draped with nylon straps that crisscross the piece, interrupting the arrangement of its constituent elements. This layering of materials and textures connects it to its three sister pieces, arranged along the same stretch of gallery wall.
It's a clever bit of curating, building a conversation among Rosser's constructions as a preamble to one among the exhibit's oil paintings.
Rosser is the William T. Kemper Distinguished Professor of Painting and chair of the painting department at the Kansas City Art Institute. Over the years, he has completed two different, related series of abstract paintings. The first is represented by six oil-on-clayboard works. The smooth surface allows for a thin application of paint and a scratchy quality that lends a dry, bold texture to the compositions. The works are as much about the brushes as the paint, with each stroke standing out against the clayboard.
"Quick Tack," a two-panel piece, pitches bold arcs and angles against a green background, which Rosser has adorned with a playful grid of deep-green and red brush strokes. This unplanned-seeming matrix repeats throughout the exhibit. The elements are minimal, but the varied thickness of the paint and the artist's brushwork offer up satisfying complexity.
"Soft Mooring" is noisier, its cerulean and lavender geometric shapes flowing diagonally across the twin panels, the stolid forms excited by the yellow backdrop, against which Rosser again plays with a grid of linear brush strokes. The shapes are precisely edged, creating a contrast with the painting's looser elements. Rosser combines techniques, surfaces and textures into arrangements that allow for repetition and that call back to previous works without sacrificing surprise.
"Crane's Bill," also oil on clayboard, more explicitly addresses the agitation of the brush-stroke grid that's visible in the other paintings. Confining his arcs and angles to the center of the composition, Rosser opens up the painting's boundaries to the gestural chatter of loose line work, challenging the hard contours of the central shapes with improvisation and spontaneity. As if to heighten this incursion of the playful into the tight-ass realm of Euclid, Rosser smudges the shapes with dark blotches that echo the brush strokes' background clatter. It's so bold and novel that it could actually serve as a signal flag for a boat — one in an altogether more conceptual and belletristic navy than the one we know.
The oil-on-canvas paintings that Rosser exhibits are less about the occupation of space than about its transformation. "Night Light" is a field of hard-edged angles and thick, precise brushwork. It's as though the square canvas that bounds a piece is being defined by the deep, contrasting colors and vectors of the elements that Rosser combines. Rosser's abstractions are case studies in the discovery of the works through their execution. He interrupts his own darkest elements, laying in trajectories of deep reds that block out blackness; Rosser curtails the advance of darkness by simply dropping the brush, leaving a field of black unfinished.
"Business at the Minster," a two-panel oil on canvas, feels like an animated shout, a call-and-response in which the two vertically arranged pieces exchange barks that express palpably different desires — the essence of drama. The color palettes of the two panels are different, but Ross cuts diamond shapes into both with deep-purple paint. Upstairs, angry reds in sharp, angular movements inform the mood and the background; below, the diamond shapes Doppler away into a distant horizon against white, complemented by blue triangles at the edges of the canvas. The conversation here among the panels is a microcosm of a larger conversation, one shouted across the Review Exhibition Space among all of Rosser's pieces.