Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Painter’s distinctive, minimalist techniques create landscapes that evoke
For The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday April 22, 2012 5:51 AM
In a statement for the new exhibition “Persistent Image” at Keny Galleries,
painter Stephen Pentak discusses artists such as Josef Albers and Roman
Opalka, who each devoted years to series focused on one subject.
“These painters had differing reasons for their persistence, but, in each
case, something happens that would not have, were the series shorter,” Pentak
Where as Opalka sought to fill canvases with a count of every number through
infinity, and Albers explored the visual possibilities within the shape of a
square, Pentak has lent to natural landscapes a similar devotion to subject
Through the years, Pentak has honed his distinctive technique for mark making
and experimenting with light and composition, aiming for “the balance between
representation and invention.”
Although his process continues to evolve, his latest works exude a Zen-like
calm and proficiency. The paintings put one in a peaceful mindset — the best
vantage for considering the nuances of image, paint application and texture.
His approach is rigorously consistent. Starting with a base layer of golden
yellow, Pentak builds densely forested landscapes by dragging palette knives
and large brushes across a wood-panel surface. He digs down to the yellow base
to form a hard horizon between land and the still, reflective bodies of water
that take up much of his compositions. The backgrounds are panoramic, while
the foregrounds are dotted by sparse collections of trees — often birches,
with their white bark formed by the delicate lines of individual bristles.
His overall aesthetic is clean and minimal but also light and gestural, as
seen in the way daintily daubed leaves hover around the foreground trees
without the benefit of being attached by branches. The choice to add elements
in close proximity against a distant horizon helps to bridge whatever psychic
distance might be created by the austere nature of his style.
One is also drawn by the vivid, subtly blended coloring and simple, elegant
beauty found in each piece.
The works I.VII and I.XI focus on the “magic hour” just before
sunset, resulting in a sky washed by warm, seductive yellows and pinks. In
II.IV, the colors of a fall sunset work into the trunks of the trees in
With the new paintings, Pentak also expands on his textural experiments with
an exertive reduction process that manifests most strongly around the edges of
the panels. In these instances, the base yellow rises up through abraded
layers of other hues, encroaching on the landscape compositions and further
defining the line between the inventions of the artist and the natural world
that inspired them.
I.III, I.VII, II.IV