The circle is the most seductive of geometries. For most cultures, the shape is meditative, if not sacred. Its ability to effortlessly grant harmony and balance to any design has led to its identification as a universal symbol of hallowed unity (Stonehenge, the Pantheon). Experienced two-dimensionally, the circle imparts good old-fashioned compositional equilibrium (Raphael). And the shape’s implied infinity transcends easily into perfection, often bringing the viewer-as-participant along for the ride (the Buddhist mandala). Circles hypnotically perpetuate a fluent gaze.
I’m not a scientist, so my explanation for this phenomenon tends toward a crackpot application of design theory. (Without beginning or end, there’s nowhere for the eye to stop! Circles are shaped like eyes!) Either way, the contemplative potential of the circle lends itself beautifully to the act of looking.
Which is one reason why so many artists love them—heck, I know I do. The circle can be optically formal or conceptually phenomenological; more often than not, it is both. Small, local artist Angela Kallus’ current exhibition of paintings at Trifecta Gallery, has a little bit of each. A 2003 graduate of UNLV’s MFA program, Kallus has painted circles almost exclusively for the last few years. The simplicity of the shape belies the complexity of the effort.
The walls of Trifecta are lined with her most recent work, targets in relief rippling out from the center of square wood panels. Most are tight and small at 12 inches by 12 inches, with one standout exception at 29 inches square. Acrylic paint is manipulated into concentric circles, so that the paintings are almost sculptural. The result is like an LP spun out of hot wax—but much, much thicker than your standard vinyl. The ridges themselves are consistently spaced, accentuated by rings of vibrantly hued acrylic. The layering of orange circle on black ring on blue ridge results in a tart, taut snap of articulated color.
These paintings pop—literally. Or should I say op! It’s impossible to avoid the weight of art history, especially when it comes to painting. But this super-intelligent artist seems to relish the associations. So many -isms, so little time ... but given the recent passing of Kenneth Noland, Small’s relationship to Color Field and Noland’s target paintings is particularly poignant.
Noland’s targets stained the surface of the canvas, effectively collapsing illusionistic space. By contrast, Kallus’ dramatically hard-edge circles obstruct optical immersion: The pigment appears to be on pins and needles. Sharp lines are accentuated by the ringed ridges so that the colors are literally elevated, hovering to the point of exhausted agitation.
Which is why I didn’t love these brightly colored circles—to be honest, they stressed me out. Adding to the low-level tension is the strict scale of the pieces, with bright targets anxiously contained by the claustrophobic 12-by-12 format. They almost appear manufactured, even craft-like. I guess one could argue that the meditative illusion of the circle is being intentionally perverted by the aggressive color and paint handling. But that isn’t very interesting.
What is interesting: the collection of black and white pieces, where the pronounced plasticity of the more brightly hued circles works to much better effect. Process is key, but not in a mechanical way. Aberrations in the ring of acrylic are more visible, rupturing the perfect circles and rendering them vulnerable to flaw. They almost tremble. At other times the paint bulges with life force, barely held in check by the stamp of a target. No longer just circles, the pieces double as swirled brush strokes, reified and elevated. Shadows of Noland and op art and hard edge dissipate, and what remains is pure, simple, unadulterated Kallus.
The monochrome black pieces are stunning. Flaws are minimal; it’s all breathtaking precision and clean onyx surfaces, subtly and dramatically elucidated by varnish. The pure geometry at play seems to be in constant motion: the square of a frame folds into overlapping triangles of matte and gloss that surgically bisect concentric circles. Negotiating these pieces (the large black one, in particular) is a feast.
Given the size of the gallery and the ego of the work, some editing would have been a welcome relief. It’s hard to focus on the paintings really deserving of attention. Equally diverting are two large paintings of acrylic flowers created with cake-decorating tips that, while beautifully decadent and arguably of merit, distract and in some ways detract from the more interesting meditations at hand. That said, Kallus is a pro: Her intelligent, process-conscious ruminations on painting do not disappoint.