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Review: Schmidt treats St. Louis with paintings by Max Cole

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 16, 2008 - The new paintings by Max Cole at Schmidt Contemporary Art are everything one would expect out of the 70-something artist: graceful, contemplative and minimalist without being cold or controlling.

Her subtle tonal gradations and linear patterning evoke Agnes Martin, and even the softer works of Bridget Riley. But Cole’s painted stripes and gently drawn hatching have always revealed a bit more of her own hand, a touch more feeling than her contemporaries. The 2008 paintings on view here are all horizontal arrangements of stripes, with varying fields of plain color. Most also feature Cole’s signature bands of feather-like vertical strokes.

Her juxtapositions are astonishing — razor-thin lines bisect broad fields, and she couples colors like black and gray to produce the most unexpected perceptual surprises (“I could have sworn there was teal in there…” I found myself saying).

Titles such as “Snow Goose,” “Slipstream” and “Vishnu” nudge you toward nature associations, which isn’t a bad thing. But the works possess their own clear, calm epiphanies; they don’t need outside associations to complete them.

Thanks go to Jim Schmidt, who “shows what he likes,” and who went to Cole, uninvited, in upstate New York, to invite her to show in St. Louis. We’re the better for it.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. 

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