Sheldon Greenberg + Maya Kabat

SLATE contemporary | 473 25th Street, Oakland, CA

May 2 - June 29, 2019 | Hours: Monday through Friday 10—5pm Saturday 12—5pm + by appt

SLATE contemporary is proud to present, California Modern: Sheldon Greenberg + Maya Kabat, featuring new paintings by two artists working to capture their impressions of California’s modern urban and suburban environments, each through their own unique language of color, light, and form.

Maya Kabat’s abstract oil paintings reference the urban landscape of Northern California, exploring relationships between architectural elements, California light, and the balance of color, line, plane, structure, and space. Inspired originally by Diebenkorn’s work, Kabat often leaves a quiet empty space in the middle of the canvas, giving absence and ground a prioritized position usually reserved for subject and form. Unlike Diebenkorn, however, Kabat focuses intently on the physical surface of her work, mixing oil paint directly on the canvas to build up a sculptural relief using drywall plaster tools. In this latest series of work, Kabat has freed herself from the square, creating a dynamic and destabilizing but exciting environment through her refusal to allow the stretcher’s shape to dictate the compositional elements within. In the smaller shaped-canvas works, she has destroyed the rectangular canvas by multiplying it and offsetting it, opening up seemingly limitless possibilities.

Sheldon Greenberg’s fascination with the West Coast environment is a result of growing up in the Midwest before moving to California, where he was immediately entranced by its landscape, architecture and light. References to the ocean, Midcentury architecture, palm trees, swimming pools, and film, show the delicate and sometimes ironic balance between California’s natural and manufactured environments. While Greenberg is also a talented realist painter, in this body of work he chooses a less literal and more abstract and process-driven approach, with the aim of representing a place and a moment in time without being overly specific. He gives the viewer just enough contextual direction to guide their looking, but ultimately allows the viewer to take their inquiry where they will.

Press for California Modern:

Ye Good Olde Moderne

The 1950s are now seen as a golden age of American prosperity and dominance. It’s partly due to the GOP myth-mongering about When People Knew Their Place and partly based in fact, since America did bestrew the world like a colossus after World War II — its new middle class created by the progressive programs of the New Deal. 

This cultural nostalgia extends to the sleek modernist design of the Mad-Men era; in our anything-goes, politically-correct postmodernist era, abstract paintings on canvas, made by hand, once derided as obsolete, now look refreshingly sincere: tokens of a kinder, gentler, simpler time. 

Of course the Cold War was no picnic, but good painting is forever, as Picasso said. A trio of artists showing at Slate Contemporary under the title California Modern proves once again that painting is vital and relevant even if one fetishizes Eichler houses, vinyl LPs, and Herb Caen’s dainty white gloves. All three artists — Sheldon Greenberg, Maya Kabat, and Mikey Kelly — are established mid-career abstractionists (though Greenberg also, despite his surname in common with flatter-is-better critic Clement Greenberg, paints representationally as well). All employ a strict abstract vocabulary of straight edges and/or colored planes, reminiscent of modernist architecture, and reinvigorate “pure” abstraction through sheer commitment and intensity.

Greenberg’s paintings are the most “realistic,” since they represent views of architectural interiors, simplified, with sumptuously colored planes tilted into perspectival walls, screens, windows, walkways, and balustrades. Devotees of Richard Diebenkorn and Hassel Smith will feel right at home perusing View from the Deck and When the Sun is Out and the Pool is Warm. Kabat’s colored planes (made with a dry wall knife) have broken from the strict rectangle into irregular, shaped canvases, generally rectangular, but modified with notches and tabs: Utah, not Colorado. If the shapes of her Super Spacial series derive from the collages of synthetic cubism, and perhaps, transposed into oil, the abstractions of Nicolas de Stael, her palette, which might be described as tropical (or Southern Californian) suggests an inspiration in landscape, refracted by memory. Kelly’s colored ink drawings, shown in the gallery hallway, are overlays of linear meshes, creating moiré-patterned spaces that are impossible to “enter” visually, yet ingeniously mesmerizing: Op Art cat’s cradles.

California Modern runs through June 29, Slate Contemporary, 473 25th St., Oakland, 510-652-4085, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.,12 p.m.-5 p.m. Sat.,

— DeWitt Cheng, The Monthly, June 2019