Donna Tadelman, “Stripe Paintings Installation view”


In the early 80’s Donna Tadelman was an emerging representational painter and a friend and enthusiast of the elder Chicago Imagists. While her hushed-toned still lifes were nothing like the tongue-in-cheek psychopathology of the above, they were favored by Dennis Adrian and included in seminal exhibitions at the Renaissance Society, the Hyde Park Art Center, and N.A.M.E. Gallery. She had numerous exhibitions with private galleries and is included in collections at the Smart Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Rockford Art Museum, and the Roger Brown Study Collection.

Like many of her contemporaries, her career trajectory has had temporary interruptions. A new ensemble of more abstract painting and mixed media work began in 2017 and continues to unfold. These include a series of geometric abstraction, hard-edged organicism, and Constructivist assemblage, amplified by a vernacular wit possibly derived from the stealth funk of Hyde Park aesthetics.

Stripes are a strong suit of Tadelman’s. Notwithstanding the explorations of retinal effects, structure, and design history by the likes of Bridget Riley, Gene Davis, Gerhard Richter, and Chicago’s Anne Wilson, Tadelman’s stripes are improvisational, and formally illusive. Her use of color is more spatial and remarkably tactile. A proportion of the stripes are modeled so the overall form becomes architectonic – recalling Western painting’s window pane fountainhead with an allegory about the persistence of function.

Despite the first impression of a chromatic system, Tadelman’s color choices are fairly extemporaneous. Stream of consciousness seems to determine passages, rather than traditional compositional balancing acts. Her minor tracking flaws, understated tilts, and imperfect edges humanize the pictures so small-scale works hold the wall persuasively. Richter et. al. seal the deal in principle, with paintings that are faster reads and tactically theoretical. Tadelman infuses design logic with restful channels of light that illuminate plausible and subtly emotive spaces. They get under your skin. A predominantly dark canvas titled “black & blue” tucks and rolls gracefully across a velvet plane. Bands of Prussian and dimmed cerulean hues are the extruded atmosphere of countless Roger Brown nocturnes.

                                 “black & blue”, 2020, 10″ X 8″, Flashe on canvas

Tadelman employs a bit of Constructivist subterfuge in a series of cardboard works. “high rise” is an agreeably unsteady work on a flattened carton suspended on a light brown corrugated surface by strips of white flagging tape. The armature profile also suggests an architectural schematic, as well as found object under controlled burn. Its surface is covered edge to irregular edge by a crazy-quilt fragment that lists improbably from thrift store remnant to modernist hotel façade. Many of the artist’s flattened container contours are tempered by a vernacularist surface and Constructivist blueprint – a tribute to a compositional affinity between early modern abstraction and folk art.

   “high rise”, 2021, 10″ X 8″, Disassembled box, Flashe, acrylic pen on cardboard

Tadelman travels even further into risky optical territory in a series of fun-house abstractions where waves of light animate fragments of backlit prismatic cuboids. Warped grids of trade bead pigment feature the plasticity of paint, the track of Tadelman’s hand, and a modulated luminescence reckless enough to induce hallucinogenic afterimages.

There’s a question about whether Tadelman’s works are first and foremost objects, or a measure of conceptual play. Is the work to be taken at face value, or just reflective of text, i.e. meditations on a stage of modernism or contemporaneity? Though the pictures are both pleasurable and cerebral, they’re neither indulgent nor ironic, as is the fashion. My instinct is that the artist is having an internal conversation about the nature of making and though everything is a sign and all signs are arbitrary in this case nature trumps culture. She carries on a dialogue with multiple pictorial discussants that seem to sway the discussion toward immediacy and presence, rather than narrative. Even abstract conventions are fair game, however, as she aggressively re-tools their premises and probabilities

“untitled” 2022, 12″ X 9″, acrylic pen on paper

Paul Krainak
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