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Review

A process that ricochets between chance and order

A dozen recent paintings by New York artist Elizabeth Neel show how process has been moving into the foreground of her work in recent years. It has been there in prior paintings, but its prominence in her second solo show at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects is a provocative turn for an artist whose abstractions have direct ties to visual experience outside the canvas.

In addition to using conventional tools like a brush or techniques like pouring, Neel frequently folds a portion of her canvas while thick patches of paint are still fresh. The result is a Rorschach-style blot. It can be biomorphic, but often it’s disconcertingly geometric.

The organic quality of a typical Rorschach inkblot is what allows fluid psychological interpretation to open up. Geometry blocks that. When the blot is a rectangle with crisp edges and a mottled skin, the brain tends toward self-conscious analysis rather than free association. The painting ricochets conceptually between chance and order, natural and contrived, mimetic and not.

A lovely painting such as “Black’s Pond (Eating Languages),” a horizontal canvas more than six feet high and nearly 12 feet wide, is exemplary. Without attempting depiction, it begins to feel like a landscape equivalent – a productive territory of composted material carefully gathered from worlds both natural and artistic.

Passages in Neel’s lively abstractions invoke strategies employed by artists as diverse as Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman, Ed Moses and Albert Oehlen. The work is not pushing against painting’s boundaries, creating something startlingly new, but it is accomplished.

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-2117, through July 3. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.vielmetter.com

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