Four paintings. That’s all, but it’s enough. The late Rudolf de Crignis (1949-2007) was a profound color tactician, who employed numerous, thin, hand-applied layers of pigment, from the white gesso foundation up through delicate gridlike cross-hatchings of aquamarines, silvers, and even reds, each layer alternating between horizontal and vertical brushstrokes. The resulting canvases zap you to the bone through rods and cones. Rather than behaving as ponderous color-field paintings about painting, these are paintings about seeing. Astonishingly, the two gray paintings on display at the Lawrence Markey Gallery contain no black; their hovering, now-metallic, now-moody hues hinge on our perception rather than on canonical one-plus-one color formulae.
I stood in the sun-drenched gallery for about 40 minutes on a late recent afternoon, talking with de Crignis’s partner and the overseer of his estate, music writer Michael Paoletta. All paintings (all objects, really) change in relation to light, but as we watched these four paintings, two gray and two blue, perfectly square at 30 by 30 inches, each transformed — and I mean altered dramatically, like some painterly approximation of a sundial’s propensity to measure, or, perhaps better, like the surface of water. This was a lovely, mindful experience: Zen without the scented candles, just a reification of the eye at one with the world.
De Crignis is a “minimalist” with heart — like Joseph Marioni, whose “color portraits” were on display at the McNay’s Stieren Center in November, de Crignis’s paintings are powerfully emotional, because color is powerfully emotional. Indeed, the two painters were contemporaries who knew each other in New York. Interestingly, though, while both men achieve tremendous color intensity and depth through a rigorous artisanal process of layering, after seeing their work, you’d know a Marioni from a de Crignis anywhere.
“All he wanted `the viewer` to do,” Paoletta says, “is to take time. Be open to that experience. There’s no right or wrong way to see these.”
Paoletta showed me a statement de Crignis wrote in Spring 2005, which reads in part: “Over the years, I have been able to better understand color and the way I use it. Still, I am always searching to understand — but never to fully know.”
His gentle inquiries, verbal and visual, are very becoming, in every sense that matters.