Donna Levinstone and Demetrius Manouselis at Jeffrey Leder Gallery
by Patrick Neal on May 2, 2012, Boro

Sunset and sunrise imagery is saddled with every conceivable art historical allusion reaching back to the masterworks of Turner and Constable, to the more recent dreck of Hallmark and Thomas Kinkade. The degree to which a work with this theme succeeds or fails depends entirely on how the artist treats the subject.

It is a relief to discover that Donna Levinstone, with her new pastels on paper on view at Jeffrey Leder Gallery, manages to produce some beautiful images around celestial rays and cloud formations. The show’s subject matter consists of the sun up or sun down motif, detailing fluctuations in time of day, and divided evenly between colored or black and white works. Levinstone appears to be taken with the spiritual aspect of nature, concentrating exclusively on the often abstract unions of ozone and earth. The pastels are free of any incidental clutter and smartly cropped to show off the main event; the passing of day with the earth’s light reflecting on vistas of water, mountains, roads, clouds and city. The artist is an accomplished draftsman, so studying how she constructs these compositions is a pleasure.

A few tiny landscapes in a corridor off the main gallery are remarkable feats of verisimilitude. No larger than about three inches squared, the tactility of the pastel medium apparent, Levinstone captures in glorious detail the hot colored bands of diminished sunlight through clouds. In a series of horizontal seascapes, the compositions are bisected where sky meets sea and details fade to a high degree of abstraction. Last Light, with a wan orange band separating a rose and alizarin sky from burnt sienna water, has the meditative calm and harmony one feels in front of a Rothko. Levinstone is particularly good at depicting the irregular sweeps and striations of cloud formations, rippling water or the tumbling of big blocky clouds.

The upstairs gallery at Leder features Demetrius Manouselis’ abstractions, all acrylic on panel or paper. The paintings vary in scale from large, horizontal, multi-paneled pieces to smaller supports grouped in series. The works are flurried with spidery lines and pentiments seen through ghostly veils of somber color that look to be derived primarily from a combination of Abstract Expressionism and “L’Art Informal” or “Tachisme.” Unifying most of the pieces are ruled, viscous scaffolds containing blocks of scrubbed, chromatic greys that bring to mind Diebenkorn. In some cases, the grounds are buckled or visible through white glazes and improvisations of pooled paint. With the purely abstract paintings, there is the addition of brightly colored circles and free gestural passages with scratched in grids and ladder formations in the manner of Irene Rice Pereira.

A subset of the small compositions introduces simple building-like shapes; a factory with a smokestack and fence rendered in simple perspective and casting long shadows. The industrial motif appears to serve as a means for surface and spatial interplay not unlike the architectonic lines in the abstractions.

The works can come close to decorative painting, but in Manouselis’ better pieces, like P11.june.21.03 and P11. may.19.02a, the disparate elements are reined in and grounded with a rigor enjoyable as pure design.

Donna Levinstone and Demetrius Manouselis, April 15–May 6, 2012
Jeffrey Leder Gallery, 21-37 45th Road Long Island City, NY
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 12 - 6pm. / / phone: 212-924-8944

Donna Levinstone and Demetrius Manouselis at Jeffrey Leder Gallery