Art in America

by Michael Duncan July 2001

LOS ANGELES

Kristin Leachman at Newspace

For the past few years, Kristin Leachman has experimented with a single, unusual subject: painted depictions of vertical sections of braided rugs. Meticulously ren­dered in oil on wood, her images of interwoven fabric read as mottled stripes. Her project enables her to meld an appreciation for hand­-made domestic crafts with the austere traditions of formalist abstraction. Each skein of three strands-usually in complementary colors-creates a diagonally crosshatched pattern. For the most part, the colors of the skeins are irregularly spaced, offering a kind of overall abstract composition. By nature handmade and wobbly, the braids form a field of funkily hand­-drawn, multicolored lines.

Leachman’s 1999  group of paintings examined the effects of light on the rugs, and her newest body of work (everything in this show was dated 2000) takes that exploration into a more sophisticated, painterly realm. Now emerging from  richer, darker hues, centralized sections of the paintings glow as if in harsh sun­light. The glare disrupts the regularity of the braids, dissolving sections of the  stripes into a hazy, fluid field. These shimmering areas evoke the subtle color explorations of painters such as Joe Goode and Pat Steir. Leachman performs  the clever and surprising trick of shifting the Rothko-derived effects of the Light and Space movement into the craft-friendly arena of Pattern and Decoration. But, like Jim lsermann’s mind-bending geometric rug works, Leachman’s paintings transcend the usual categories. Her interests in film­ making and stained glass feed her conceptually rich painting project. The light in the center sections of the darkly hued, square panels, as in Bluemont and Culpepper, pierces the frame like a sunbeam through a cathedral window, while the ghostlike effects of light crossing the horizontal expanses of larger works such as Rancho Cucamonga and Angeles Crest seem the result of a cinematic filter.

Leachman uses the hard surfaces of her birch supports to control the paintings’ precise tonal effects. With an unexpected complexity that transcends its down-home subject matter, her work explores the elemental properties and interaction of geometry, color and composition in abstract painting.

-Michael Duncan