Carin Riley’s most recent works on paper continue to display the fine draftsmanship that has marked her projects from the beginning. In these series of gouaches and watercolors from 2012-2013, her compositions are still based on the grid, although a loosely delineated one that at times suggests the figurative. It’s a strategic toggling between the real and the non-objective that has appeared in earlier works. Riley also introduces one or two small, flat, somewhat geometric plaques of wood veneer into compositions that vary in their degree of clarity and entanglement. Materiality has always been a concern of hers and the wood appliqués, their contours rounded, softened, offer contrasts of shape, texture, and color, the latter usually a warm maple or other golden hue. Placed sparingly, they act as a kind of punctuation, a focal point for the gaze.
Riley’s minimalist sensibility may expand or contract, but even her more expressive forays operate within established parameters. If she exceeds them, she balances that (relative) exuberance by greater reticence in other aspects of the work or in another work, as if to preserve her innate, sensitively calibrated reserve. For instance, while the compositions are often complex in these new drawings, Riley has returned to her signature palette of warm and cool blacks, whites and grays, the spare color schema calming the often more ornate networks of lines and shapes. The lack of other colors allows the structure to be the star, to have maximum impact without distractions. If color appeals to the emotions and line to the intellect, Riley’s works—with color at a minimum—advocates the rational and the abstract, but with verve, with twists, turns and surprises and appeals to both.
The rhythm in her work is typically angular, the lines often tack sharply, even in Gray and White Letter, 2012, the bubbled white outlines are not always curvaceous. A small, pale gray rectangle hovers in the background, accompanied by gray scribbles that echo the pattern in white like ghosts or shadows, the verticality of the design conjuring an upright figure. Her taut but supple markings, shifting from opaque to translucent, create a shimmered maze for the eye to follow, the trajectory at times straightforward, at other times a more enigmatic mapping. But Riley’s keen graphic instinct prevents chaos, her raveling is clean, sophisticated, adroit, even at its most snarly. The titles are intriguing. With the exception of the Delft Figures (which summon up porcelain figurines in schematic form, the thin, wavering lines alternating with more solid, colored-in forms), all of the titles seem to refer to mental processes (Cognition, Brain) or ancient mythological symbols of wisdom and vanished cultures (Athena, Etruscan). In these works, a semblance of a real brain or a neural system might be discerned.
The large square painting, Gray and White Athena, 2013, is an iteration of the Athena, 2013, on paper, but the image is all white, more overtly quadripartite yet quite fluid, floating against a gray ground—very assured, very harmonious. In the end, the real subject of these works is about seeing, about a choreographed movement, a dance of hand and eye and mind that denotes grace.
Born in New York
Lives and works in New York City
MFA - Art Institute of Chicago, IL
BA - School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
Selected Group Exhibitions
Selected Drawings,Weber Fine Art, Greenwich, CT
Prophetic Diagrams, George and Jorgen, London UK
Amulets, Queens College Art Center, Queens, N.Y
Rapunzel, Queens College Art Center, Queens ,NY
Undercover, Slag Contemporary , Bushwick, NY
Utopia, Queens College Art Center, NY
Unfreedom, Smudajescheck Galerie, Ulm, Germany
Study for Chinese Maple, Site-specific wall drawing for Ligne Roset, New York, NY
Out of Line, Slag Gallery, New York, NY
“Out of Line,” Goings on About Town, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010
“Out of Line at Slag Gallery,” by Mica Medoff, The Drawing Center blog, June 23, 2010
The Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR
-Gift of Sally and Wynn Kramarsky
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
The Brickman Collection, New York, NY
Mitchells / Richards Collection
Private Collections, N.Y and CT