Arts » Visual Art

Natural Curls

Peggy Kwong-Gordon's accidental alphabets


Peggy Kwong-Gordon's intertwining painted lines coil through a scale of 20 colors, feeling like visible music. Her narrow, thickly transparent casein (a milk-based paint) strokes based on studies of strands of her own wet hair, writhe in intimate rhythms as they slam quick songs across small and mid-size canvases, filling a couple of square feet with intricately raw gesture. You could dance to them or maybe compose to them; rising from a milky ground of gesso sotille (a semi-transparent soup of plaster of paris), they seem as sleekly current as a playlist on an iPod screen — yet they remain oddly evocative of distant origins and the timelessness inherent in the repetition of physical form. Each color and squiggle has its own distinct weight and presence in works that deliberately propose no visual hierarchies of color, value or form. They curl around one or more straight up-and-down lines, like series of notes inscribed on sections of a musical staff flipped upwar or wisteria vines winding around supports. Recalling our world's macro-microscopic edges, they bring to mind both bacteriological entities and hints of esoteric physics. Mainly, though, Kwong-Gordon's point is a search for equilibrium among the distracting gyres of phenomena, conveying the idea that the complexity of the world is, after all, very simple: Time and physical law play the cards of growth and decay one by one, layered from age to age.  

Kwong-Gordon's 20 or so visual inventions in her exhibit Equipose at 1point618 gallery are continuations of earlier works shown in 2006 at MOCA Cleveland. There she compared and contrasted the rough, random geometry of her hair with renditions of the very clearly delineated style of Chinese calligraphy produced during the Eastern Han Dynasty in the 1st-3rd centuries C.E. Those works explored her long-standing interest in Taoist thought and the philosophy of Lao Tse's classic text, the Tao Te Ching.

At Equipoise, Kwong-Gordon, who was born in China's Guangzhou Province and grew up in Hong Kong, produces meditations similarly anchored in historical reference and primordial form, but also specifically linked to surrealist/expressionist combinations of late modernist painting and the linear preoccupations of more recent, so-called post-painterly styles. The dynamics of her stacked, interlocking lines have much to do with painters as different in spirit as Jackson Pollock and Brice Marden.

But a more eccentric, and in some ways more pessimistic, take on the relationship between orderly choice and random occurrence is implied in the three paintings jointly titled "The Darkness Moves." These words, which Kwong-Gordon takes from the title of a prose work by maverick surrealist Belgian writer/painter Henri Michaux published in the 1930s, literally describe the way her black curls progress between the canvases' five lines of a pale blue "staff." But they also remember the earlier artist's "exorcisms," his use of automatism and obsession with establishing a degree of psychological freedom in a world gone mad. Trapped within the inevitable limits of genetics, politics, economics and time, we seek and sometimes find miraculous grace in our choice of "accidents."


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