Margrit Lewczuk, a participant in a loose band of militantly anti-ironic abstract painters in Brooklyn, has a steady exhibition record. She has taught figure drawing at the Metropolitan Museum for over 20 years and, with her husband, abstract painter Bill Jensen, a master painting class at the New York Studio School. Ten years ago, Lewczuk lost 25 years of her work along with her art collection to a studio fire. She reemerged in her first New York solo since that catastrophe with a capsule retrospective of the past eight years of her work in an ad hoc gallery next to her Williamsburg studio.
The show was installed on two levels with paintings from 2007–09 on the first floor and paintings from 2002–06 and collages from 2008 to the present in the basement. Lewczuk’s earlier style of compacting earth-toned wedges and discs of abstract shapes on diminu- tive canvases is nowhere in evidence, replaced now by considerably larger, brilliantly colored field paintings seemingly distilled from myriad sources. Lewczuk takes considerable interest in traditional, ancient and non-European cultures, as evidenced by an accompanying brochure that offers reproductions of her past and present work beside those of Pompeian mosaics, Malian wall paintings and Mayan sculpture.
The mildly hallucinogenic linear quality of pre-Columbian sculptural reliefs is at play in the majority of the casually brushed, seemingly guileless but aggressively flat compositions. The impetus is akin to the cross- cultural/nature-study union seen in Philip Taaffe’s tight compositions, but without Taaffe’s mechanical-seeming execution. Lewczuk prefers to allude to nature in the off-the-road scruffiness and direct but caressingly light touch of her paint handling. Various tropes from global cultures are amalgamated in the deftly applied wet, bright acrylic, as swiftly limned curved stripes and brushed fields alternate as foreground and background.
Slowly undulating symmetrical patterns are characteristic of many of Lewczuk’s works. The 4-by-5-foot Drums for Connie (2007), for example, features a centered hourglasslike outline that appears pinched by two flanking ovular shapes. Within these, segments of concentric circles push into the interiors to form equally squeezed diamond-shaped areas between them. The “drums” in the title could refer both to the rhythms, rhymes and jumps of the repeating shapes in the painting or to an abstracted depiction of the sound a pair of oval drums might make.
The similarly vivid collages seem to hew closer to original source material, in some cases Mexican skulls or vaguely Aztec rug designs. And earlier works, on view in a basement chamber, were rendered in colorful phosphorescent paint that, when the lights were turned off, glowed in the dark. This temporary darkness is perhaps the last vestige of the turgid mysteriousness of Lewczuk’s earlier work. The new paintings have a strange, but unblinking, animist power. Lewczuk appears determined to ensnare the viewer, and she succeeds.
Photo: View of Margrit Lewczuk’s exhibition, showing acrylic-on- linen paintings from 2007-09; at 85 Metropolitan.