Excerpts from an Essay by DAVID PAGEL
Art Critic/Curator

Elaine Pizza’s abstract paintings are about color in the same way that a sunset or a bed of flowers is about color: obliquely and intrinsically. Although her acrylics on canvas would be mere shadows of themselves if rendered in black-and white (or even in a wide range of subtly tinted grays), color is simply one of the physical properties that she has combined with a handful of others to orchestrate experiences that, being both slippery and complete unto themselves, are fairly difficult to articulate. That is to say, while the specific, often idiosyncratic palette the painter deploys in her paintings is essential to their identity, its flavor and bearing have less to do with the memories they trigger and the associations they evoke than with the ways they animate your eyes and set your mind into motion as it tries to come to terms with just what it is that is in from of it.

Sunsets and beds of flowers don’t usually do that-but for no fault of their own. For the most part, we are too familiar with their beauty to take them seriously as thought-inspiring phenomena. Pizza’s paintings redeem such an anaesthetized relationship to the ordinary world by alerting us to some of its wonders. Creating experiential conundrums, the layered veils of diaphanous yet saturated color that make up the translucent, reflective surfaces of her works arouse a viewer’s curiosity, compelling one to ask such simple questions as: Where is that color located? How fast is it going? Does it meet much resistance? Is sufficient friction generated to change its temperature? And where does it end?

Part of the power of Pizza’s art has to do with its embrace of artifice. Although her colors originate in nature, they never pretend to return us to a world untouched by culture. Mixed into the majority of her acrylic paints are pearlescent pigments, synthetic concoctions that make her works appear to be lit from within. The hum of neon and the cool glow of fluorescent light give them a synthetic presence that is true to their source in plastics and up-front about their place in the contemporary world, shot-through, as it is, with all manner fabricated substitutes for the real thing. What’s most interesting about Pizza’s paintings is that they don’t flaunt their artifice, treating fakery as if it has to be extravagant to compensate for some fantasized loss of some supposedly natural world. Instead, they represent the next generation of works, pieces in which artificiality is perfectly natural - that is what we all start with whenever we try to do anything. In this way, Pizza’s abstract images lay claim to a wide realm of general civility rather than to a circumscribed sphere of specialized culture.

painting detail

To look closely at her best works is to be uncertain of where their colors are located. Sometimes they appear to hover just in from of the shallow regions she carves out of space. At other times, they seem to float between and among various veils that have a fabric-like presence, changing as they overlap and break free of one another. In every case, your viewing position alters the look and substance of her paintings, causing ambient light to enter-and emerge from-them at ever-changing angles. Pizza makes the most of the difference between looking through things (like windows or lenses) and looking at them (like flowers or sunsets). It’s often said that you can’t do both simultaneously. She suggests otherwise.

More often than not, the passages in Pizza’s paintings move with the force and character of geological formations, like tectonic plates grinding against one another’s edges, exerting great pressure and sometimes buckling, with sudden drama. At the same time, they are airy, seemingly constituted by gentle winds blowing through space. If the term atmospheric could be stripped of its literary or cinematic uses, in which it manipulates background moods, it would go a long way to describe the physicality of Pizza’s abstractions: of gases passing through various atmospheres, of fumes dissipating, and of flames flickering. An exquisite sense of weightlessness is bodied forth by these light-handed works, which get off the ground and float, like thoughts, when they really take off.