Gretchen Albrecht's exhibition at the Barry Lett Galleries in May showed a new direction and development in her work. In the paintings we associate more readily with this artist, rich floods of colour, and forms suggestive of land, sea and sky-scapes make an understated reference to elements from the real world. As they progress chronologically, the works depart further from these familiar themes, to involve the canvas surface more positively and produce a complex dialogue in paint.

In Grey Ledge the full-bellied red/orange volume of floating colour is framed above by a glimpse of white canvas which below expands to act as light behind stratifications of rock. These horizontal wedges support the mass balanced above, countering the full form with their narrow solidity. We are reminded of a cross-section of earth strata.

Similarly successful is Violet Edge. Here, a veil of violet paint hangs torn within the work, the painting's space being defined by juxtaposition with the raw canvas - evocative of light within the work. The subtleties of the diffused, airy, violet/purple space are increased by hanging calligraphic brushstrokes that help delineate yet another space within the painting. (Those who saw Albrecht's large brush drawing in the Auckland City Art Gallery's Drawings Invitational exhibition earlier this year will recognize similarities between the two.)

Chalice, Drift II and Sea Region are three paintings which use related images involving a central, slow-moving area of deep colour, suspended within horizontal bands of sharper colour. The painter's use of raw canvas to counterpoint or offset the colour field is highly successful, and a tension is established within the work where the acrylic bleeds into the canvas and the edges meet. This can be seen in Drift II, where two slivers of sharp light penetrate and juxtapose the large purple mass, giving the spatial effect of setting the image back.

acrylic on canvas, 1500 x 4820 mm. (Barry Lett Galeries)

In comparison with the large, expansive movements of Gretchen Albrecht's earlier works, the later ones are made up of many marks and movements. The tones are now softer, the light more often delicate and suffused. Ribboning lines of colour give pulsation and rhythms which reverberate internally. The most obviously 'experimental' work is Leap, where, in high key colour, bounding skipping lines undulate and interlace, mapping a tumultuous path. The first sign of the tong purple shape entering from the top of the painting is seen here, perhaps intruding too obviously - an element successfully resolved in Snake Charmer.

The feeling evoked in these new works (as exemplified in Seasonal) is of an unmasking - like a view inside a living, cellular organism, or a view through the spheres where planes recede and project, fibrously interconnected. Suffused colour and rippling emerging line are knitted into the surface to contract and expand, giving breadth and depth of movement. Light bounds through the canvas, is trapped and released, so the painting is like a flickering, momentary illumination.

The mixed media collages are an informative link to the new paintings. The flexibility and potential of collage is well suited to Albrecht, whose felt banners, exhibited in 1975, bear similarities to the present group in the way that they combine cut edges and sharp lines to build up and dissect the surface. In the banners, however, the colour areas are isolated in their purity; while in the collages, because worked canvas and paper have been incorporated, greater variety of colour and depth of surface pattern is achieved. By weaving cut canvas and paper through the surface of the work, and so crossing planes and lines, the artist produces considerable textural subtlety.

Distinctive elements give each of these paintings a particular strength: the juxtaposition of abstract/identifiable images within the whole work, the spatial dimension implied by raw canvas, and the colour, which despite its depth is never dense but always retains lightness and resonance.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 6 June/July 1977