The Counterpoint of Incident and Intention

By Ezrha Jean Black


The hard-ruled lines and strict (if not exactly hard-edged) geometrics of Moshé Elimelechs water-colours belie the mutability of their configurations, the variation of form, structure, and (naturally) colour that plays out within their softly delineated edges. Theres a musicality - both in the rhythmic structuring and pacing of the horizontal and vertical elements, with the occasional syncopation of linear, fractal or chromatic elements, and the chromatic progressions in themselves. The rectilinear austerity is offset by the sense of visual surprise, the unexpected flash of colour or a momentarily deepened saturation. Everywhere expectations are challenged or confounded: a pure line of colour giving way to a gradient; the continuous line continually interrupted.

The rhythm is plainly stated in the studies configured as rectangular arrays. You feel the musicality - the lead-in on a chromatic note, the intensification. Flecks of color spark across registers, while another fades from one column to the next; and soft grays elide to charcoal and black - like a long sustained note.

As willfully abstract as these colour studies obviously are, they cannot elude the suggestion of environmental influence. Tryptich No. 6 - this broken into a rectangular array of three evenly spaced columns suggests a fragmentary landscape physically continuous, but interrupted temporally. A long blue ribbon, pale at either end, like a body of water meets a narrow ribbon of white slicing a horizon line. The columns and horizontal registers mark transitions from one condition or time marking to another. One layer seems to refract against the next; and the artist seems determined to abstract it further with occasionally contrary, counter-intuitive coloration. Yet it coheres both as an image and in terms of its overall color harmony. The elements coalesce in a counterpoint of incident and intention.

If the diagonal markings indicate a noise or static in the signal, the gradient of ascending lights to darks in Untitled No. 9, suggests an illusionary recession from bottom to top or even a sense of falling, as the eye descends as abruptly as it moves forward. Instability, unpredictability prevail through this measured succession of lines and facets.

This is a pattern repeated through most if not all of Elimelechs water-colours - the simultaneity of something completely abstract, yet sliced from the physical world; and with it the sense of both arbitrary disconnection from that world, whether interior or exterior, and the sense of a virtually infinite line and series of progressions and regressions. We have seen this before in drawing, but less frequently involving colour.

The zero-sum for Elimelech might in fact be exactly what it has been for artists from Reinhardt to Stella. Finally he appears to abandon the hard-ruled registers altogether, as if they existed only to set off the dark chromatic drama within the square (Untitled No. 21). Here, heavy indigos, charcoal gray and black, elide hesitantly but dramatically into deepest amethysts, russets, ambers, umbers, and even a soft gray-blue. We see the deliberated progression or regression here. Theres a luminosity to this darkness. The randomness of the ruled lines seems to confirm the chromatic evidence. Indeterminacy rules this geometry.



Back to Selected Essays