Form + Content exhibits three women painting in abstraction

Double Swirl, by Anne Davey; oil on board.

Double Swirl, by Anne Davey; oil on board.

The paintings of three wonderful women artists are on display right now at Form + Content Gallery, each working with a visual language that explores abstraction. For "On the Cusp," Anne Davey (Memphis, Tennessee), Barbara Kreft (a German-born artist living in Minneapolis), and Ruth Piper (Bristol, England) each have divergent styles, but in all of their work, a kind of emotion is stirred through their adept use of space, pattern, and texture.


Of all the painters, Ann Davey is the most recognizably drawn to nature. As the artist with the smallest paintings in the exhibition, Davey is able to use the limited space to portray an intensity of emotion with a skilled use of the brush. Her palette is for the most part subdued warm colors, with just a hint of dark shapes signifying a deeper melancholy.  

Some of Davey's paintings have a swirly, dreamlike tone, such as Turn, where the artist employs flesh colors and yellow tones near the top of the piece and deeper magenta and black on the bottom to create a figure that appears to dance in the water. Other paintings are more sinister, such as Above and Beneath II where the figure almost seems to be drowning.  

My favorite of Davey's paintings is Lapse, a stark meditation on isolation. The figure hovers at the top corner of the canvas, with one arm stretched across and the other down the left side. The off-white background  is less busy than some of Davey's other pieces, and the use of negative space leaves a feeling of loneliness.  

In contrast to Davey's abstracted figures, Barbara Kreft paints on enormous canvases with dizzying pattern structures. According to curator Jil Evans, Kreft spends months and months on her pieces, beginning with source material such as maps, airport designs, mosaics, or leaf patterns. However, the paintings are not straightforward patterns; with incredible detail, Kreft subtly breaks up the pattern with slight color shifts and shadows.

Kreft's 64'' X 64'' painting Timbuktu is a dizzying work, utilizing greens and browns and variations of light. Like Kreft's other pieces, Timbuktu strikes with awe in the first viewing, but upon closer look impresses with how complex it is. Kreft brilliantly creates a painting that is constantly in motion as the viewer's eyes scan the pattern's ever changing path.  
Ruth Piper's bright geometric paintings echo back to an early 20th century constructivist era, but like the other two artists, her work isn't always what it seems. Her pieces have a whimsical awkwardness to them, as well as a feeling of subversion.  

In Character is Destiny, Piper uses sharp lines and shapes to portray an ominous, looming black figure overhanging a mass of squiggly geometric lines. Does the black figure signify authority? Are the squiggly lines ready for some trickery? One can't be sure. In Martian Marina, a light blue phallic shape takes up space in the center of canvas, pushing up next to a black block with white squiggly shape inside. I tend to think it's a feminist piece. Regardless, it's very fun and enjoyable, no matter what message you take from it. 

"On the Cusp" runs through December 11. This fascinating exhibit, curated by Jil Evans, is definitely worth checking out. Gallery hours are noon to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Form + Content Gallery is located in the Whitney Square Building at 210 North Second Street in Minneapolis.