“It was 1968 and the first day of New Geometry at Cheshire High School …”
This is the story behind the “New Geometry” exhibit at the Fred Giampietro Gallery. Inspired by a snazzy pink-and-green geometry textbook from Giampietro’s 1968 high school class, “New Geometry” is a collection that showcases various artists and their fresh perspectives on geometric abstraction. But perhaps more importantly, “New Geometry” seeks to bring us back to our childhood days, when everything was beautiful.
Walking into the exhibit brought back fond memories of kindergarten days, playing with parquetry blocks during math class and creating fun tessellations as we learned how triangles, squares and rhombuses fit together. Sadly, my love for geometry faded quickly in high school, when complicated proofs and equations ended terribly: a B in the class and a pure hatred for shapes and the like. I dreaded entering “New Geometry” for fear of bringing back traumatic math memories. But I was pleasantly surprised.
Vibrant colors are the first thing you’ll notice when you arrive at the gallery; they pop out in contrast to the bare, white walls. A collection of works by Power Boothe, particularly his “Harwinton” series, leaves an especially startling impression. Using just red, yellow and blue, Booth experiments with color blending and shading to create a bold mosaic of arcs, lines and right angles that come together seamlessly.
Blinn Jacobs’ equally colorful collection plays with triangles and complementary colors. At first glance, his casein/gatorboard work “Bend,” which resembles a paper plane, looks simple, but closer inspection reveals great complexity. In the piece, a triangle split in half, Jacobs experiments with different textures and mixes lilac purple and navy blue. The hundreds of hand-etched and crosshatched lines make clear how challenging and precise the artist’s hand is.
Another theme that unites the pieces in “New Geometry” is the contrast between their seemingly whimsical nature and complex undertones. I was particularly struck by “2013P-24,” by Anoka Faruqee ’94, which resembles a hypnotic illusion. Through pastel colors of green, pink, yellow and blue, the piece came alive the moment I saw it and began to pulse before me in waves of shimmering color and light. Using just a two-dimensional plane, Faruqee is able to translate movement into color.
Celia Johnson’s “Blazon Series,” whose jigsaw-esque pattern evoked images of puzzle pieces, also impressed me. Although each piece in the series is meant to act as an independent work, all share the same color palette of black, yellow and orange, and can be brought together to form a larger, single masterpiece. Together, they form—in a very meta-like fashion — a puzzle within a puzzle. And just as a puzzle is about putting pieces together, Johnson experiments with color in different ways to make a larger statement about abstract form and pattern.
My favorite pieces in the “New Geometry” collection, however, are those by Karen Schiff. In her “Dialogues” series, Schiff uses newspaper clippings from the Bookends column of The New York Times as the basis of her work. In using the punctuation marks at the ends of paragraphs, Schiff plays connect-the-dots to convey abstract faces speaking to one another. “X-Plus” plays similarly with printed text, creating a mixed-media collage of bright purples and blues. Here, Schiff hand-stamps Xs all over stamp album pages, then draws between the stamps.
Looking at Schiff’s works creates a dizzying effect similar to Faruqee’s pieces and reminds me of the vertigo I’ve felt after looking up from a book after hours and hours of reading.
Though abstract art isn’t for everyone, “New Geometry” offers a fresh and inviting way to appreciate modern art. Come for the colors, and come for the shapes. Take it from a person who didn’t do so well in high school geometry — “New Geometry” is not an exhibit to be missed.
Correction, Jan. 25: A previous version of this article misdescribed the media used in several of Karen Schiff’s works. In fact, Schiff used newspaper clippings and stamp album pages.