The Clearing: Paintings by David Shapiro

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Cara Ober on David Shapiro: Infinite Centers at Goya Contemporary

David Shapiro’s painting, “Clearing 112,” is divided into two disparate halves. Each section is a monochromatic square of acrylic on canvas. Each uses minimal color and simple lines on a flat background. However, this is where the similarity ends. The right half features wriggling, curly gray lines on a darker background that remind you of DNA strands or a growing microorganism under a microscope. In the left half, one lines bisects a cream colored plane into two horizontal halves. The line is not quite straight and it’s not crooked. Although both sides are minimal, the contrast between the two is extreme. On the right you have the earliest beginnings of life and, on the left, the flat line of a heart monitor. Or is it a new horizon?

Clearing 112

Shapiro’s paintings have been consistent throughout his career: spare, stacked compositions that explore emptiness, surface, and endless varieties of the color gray. On the whole, Shapiro’s works are both elegant and severe; contrasting minimalist arrangements and color with richly imbued, and even decorative, surfaces. Knowing that the artist was dying when he planned this exhibit makes the work selected by curator Amy Raehse more poignant and more transcendent than they would normally be perceived. They hum with a calm presence that is palpable, monolithic, and oblique, not unlike a holy icon or relic.

“Curating David’s last exhibition was an extraordinary, albeit an emotional, honor,” said Amy Raehse of Goya Contemporary. “His practice, paintings, scholarship and life values mirrored one another. Respectful of humanity and nature, Shapiro’s abstraction was grounded in a spiritual connection that was both profoundly complex and approachable.”

Clearing 56
Clearing 72

Shapiro only recently passed away in April 2014, and the show is steeped in the power of his death. You can’t help but feel poignant stirrings of tenderness and loss when you experience them, and to appreciate the restraint and subdued sensibility the artist lovingly employed throughout his career.

What is most gratifying to me about Shapiro’s work is their success in capturing a primal, non-verbal understanding. They evoke the sensation of sand, ocean, night, and wooded thickets without illustrating anything. In several pieces, the artist built up a thick, gritty impasto and carved concentric circles into the surface. In others, a meandering squiggle of line contrasts from a background and somehow glows. Shapiro’s paintings capture an appreciation for the simplest and most complex details, and their clean craftsmanship causes you to marvel at the most obvious visual revelations. There’s a natural beauty inherent to the work, a harmonious sensory quality to them, that can’t be explained by a concept.

The exhibit at Goya Contemporary, which is balanced by a concurrent show Betty Cook’s jewelry compositions in silver, comes down on June 5, 2014.


* Author Cara Ober is Founding Editor at BmoreArt

** Photos by Joe Hyde, courtesy of Goya Contemporary

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