by Carol Diehl
Art in America
David Row has developed a unique and intensive painting technique that, in itself, is seduc- tive and gorgeous. Layers of oil and alkyd are scraped on and scraped off pairs of oversize wood or canvas panels to create rich, dense tapestries of color. The process of scraping, which hides some colors while others are revealed in a random man- ner, provides a balance to Row’s precisely delineated figuration— in this case, controlled gesture in the form of undulating ribbons that resemble loosely tied knots.
In the past, Row’s paintings depended heavily on the flashy effects his methods could pro- duce, and often appeared more calculated than heartfelt. But now, rather than being driven by his process, Row emerges as its master; the paintings in this latest exhibition, all from 1999, are less complicated and more cohesive than before, and they express a new lyricism and vitality. Showy but not slick, the work has a new painterly depth and dimension that take it beyond the surface. Harsh primary hues and stark black and white have given way to a more refined and integrated use of color, both brilliant and subtle. No longer impeded by disjointed panels and awkwardly placed blocks of flatly applied pigment, Row’s tangled imagery holds forth with serpentlike sensuality.
Phosphor is clearly named for the pale, luminous green that ani- mates a thick, pythonlike convolution which winds up from the bottom of the horizontal can- vas and takes several loops around itself before exiting at the top. The shape is reflected in mirror images, like ghosts or shadows, that swirl in the back- ground—fiery reds and oranges above the horizon, dark watery blues below—and in the swooping scratched-and-painted threads that give motion to the whole. Underlying it all is an implied grid, and the interplay between the visceral and geo- metric gives the painting much of its tension. There is potency, too, in the way Row balances on the fine line between image and abstraction; his ribbons go beyond the organic to suggest complicated highway inter- changes, twisting mountain roads, meandering rivers, as well as affiliations with Celtic inter- lace—efforts by man or nature to contain spontaneous activity. At once active and harmonious, they raise the possibility of order within chaos.