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Islip Art Museum

Surface Impressions
Scratching the 'Surface' and teasing your senses

By Ariella Budick

It's too bad, really, that museums frown on stroking or tasting the art on exhibit, because the paintings in "Surface Impressions" are a touchable, lickable, thick, crusty and faux-furry bunch. This weirdly sensual and very satisfying exhibit at the Islip Art Museum is an expertly curated showcase for artists who don't just accrete paint on surfaces, but create colorful hides and alluring textures.

Scott Richter applies layer after layer of gloopy paint to the structures that come under his brush. Here, he has built and smeared creamy oils into a spiral that spurts upward and contracts into a narrow peak, like icing. The thick, glutinous surface cries out for a finger-swipe and a surreptitious slurp.

The sculptural form alludes simultaneously to the wedding cake and the biblical Tower of Babel, suggesting that marriage may be less a syllabub than a tragic fracturing of communication.

Robert Sagerman and Jim Walsh slather thick gobs of paint onto canvases, but there the resemblance ends. Sagerman approaches his pieces with an obsessive eye, building grids, patterns and architectures out of meticulously positioned blobs. Walsh takes the slashing Abstract Expressionist brush stroke as his point of departure, but he magnifies it, turning it into a determinedly 3-D proposition. His paintings look like squashed gobs or multicolored toothpaste.

Curator Karen Shaw knows not to ply viewers with too much goo, and offers a few selections that play with tactility in a different way. Southampton-based Kevin Teare builds large pictorial structures out of construction materials. Clumps of black mortar peek out from behind wooden slats, like tufts of frizzy hair sticking out between barrettes. The materials are tough and unyielding, but they offer an organic illusion of fuzziness.

Kwang-young Chun attaches thousands of tiny pyramidal packages to his paintings, each wrapped in century-old mulberry paper and string. Printed with pictographs, the paper's been used for wrapping herbal medicines; for Chun they call to mind a childhood in his parent's pharmacy in Korea. Close up, his monochromatic "paintings" look like labor-intensive agglomerations of minuscule sculptures. Yet from a distance, they resemble topographic maps or Chinese scroll paintings, with broad mountains, deed valleys and riverbeds. Or they could be read as sweeping calligraphies.

As cogent and consistent as the exhibit is, there's something mildly frustrating about asking to invoke smell, touch or memory. The French and Russian symbolists propounded the correspondence of senses, especially of music and colors, but unless you share the belief, the works in "Surface Impressions" are teases that say "Please Touch" and "No Touching" at the same time.

This review appeared in Newsday, Friday, April 20, 2007
on page b25