Don Voisine paints monumental shapes on a small scale. His hard-edge geometric abstraction revels in crisp formal perfection that is at once balanced and off-kilter. Painted in oil on boxy panels that emphasize the sculptural nature of the images, these paintings (all 2010 or ’11) are variations on a theme where black dominates black. Black rectangles, both glossy and matte, are imposed one over the other, often diagonally to make a blocky X that pushes at the boundaries of the picture plane, filling so much space that the white or neutral “background” appears only in wedge-shaped notches or slices. The black form acts as a shield that denies entry, as well as an inky pool with seductive depths; forceful yet tantalizingly aloof, Voisine’s paintings could give new meaning to the term “passive aggressive.”
Even with all this visual weight, there is illusion (in Snip the X appears to be convex) and movement, as if the black forms are only a portion of a larger system—as when looking through a train window at another, passing train, we are seeing but a part.
Despite their Serra-like mass, the urgency of the black, as well as obvious connections with Russian Constructivism and Minimalism, these paintings do not take themselves too seriously. Any association with black as funereal, or even as a hue that denotes high seriousness and sophistication, is mitigated by matching colored bars, each edged with a single, thin ribbon of contrasting color, that run across the top and bottom of the panels (except for Otto, where they frame the sides, with a result that is more static). Here the artist’s choice of playful hues like lavender, orange or lemon yellow could be seen as a coy nod to decoration, and puts Voisine in the company of Jo Baer and Anne Truitt, whose works offset rigorous geometry with, say, shocking pink, without relinquishing profundity.
Although this is only Voisine’s second solo exhibition at McKenzie, he has been refining his format since 1980, when, after finishing art school, he began to explore imagery derived from the floor plans of places where he worked or lived. In Voisine’s self-limited, methodical system, change comes slowly. Regardless of their similarity, none of the paintings exhibited here seemed superfluous; rather, each appeared to represent yet another incremental step in the artist’s development. As interesting as this may be for the artist and those who seek a deeper understanding of his work, the presentation of so many at once diminished their individual power. One longed to see a blank wall with just one of Voisine’s small paintings (such as HMV, which is only 12 inches square) at its center, a circumstance in which it could no doubt effortlessly hold its own.
Photo: Don Voisine: Snip, 2011, oil on wood, 20 by 30 inches; at McKenzie.