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Columbia native Patton Blackwell engages eyes and psyche in retrospective exhibition

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Patton Blackwell’s Turiya Dourado / photo by Tom Mack

In his highly influential 1911 thesis entitled “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky muses about the two-fold importance of color choice. The artist must, according to Kandinsky, not only consider the effect of a particular color on the eye but also take into account what might be termed “inner resonance,” the psychological response of the viewer.

A case study in color theory is now on view at City Art, which is currently hosting the exhibition Four Decades of Patton Blackwell. A Columbia native who now resides in Camden, Blackwell is following in the footsteps of many modern abstract artists, among them Georgia O’Keeffe, who absorbed Kandinsky’s theories about color and form and learned how to use both elements to translate on canvas their personal experience of their surroundings.

A fine incarnation of this particular approach is the large-scale piece, roughly six feet by eight, entitled Carnival, wherein swirls of color may be said to replicate the feathered costumes of bedazzled samba dancers during the February and March festivities in Rio de Janeiro. The flurry of frenetic movement characteristic of the typical samba school parade is admirably captured in acrylic and oil slick on canvas; especially notable are the artist’s gestural brushwork and her use of pink and orange, colors Kandinsky considered restless and alive. Blackwell spent 14 years in Brazil, most of that time in Rio, and there is little wonder that her long sojourn in that city should inform her art.

Another especially compelling piece can be found on the second floor of City Art. It’s a large-scale acrylic to which I myself failed to respond positively when confronted head on. Perhaps it was the overhead lighting, but when I moved to the side, I could see a dazzling spattering of reflective silver-white dots, like sparks from a central explosion. Suddenly, the title Explodindo, Portuguese for “exploding,” made sense. The central shape in red and black, the latter color ascending like smoke to the upper reaches of the canvas, reads like the core blast of a firework and the white splatters like cascading sparks. I was drawn into the canvas from the darkened borders to the molten core, and the overall effect was reminiscent of James McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold, subtitled The Falling Rocket.

My favorite work in the current show, a triptych entitled Turiya Dourado, admirably encapsulates the artist’s essential intention, which is to use color and gesture not only to please the eye but also to strike a responsive chord in the viewer. In Hindu philosophy, the “turiya” state of consciousness is the point when one arrives at perfect union with the universe. Blackwell depicts the achievement of this goal as “dourado” or “golden”; and that is the prominent color of the piece, a blaze of yellow-gold, often thickly applied, surrounding a core of peacock blue, a color that to Kandinsky represented peace and calm. My eyes were dazzled by the rich, glittering surface treatment of this piece that reads like an orientalist fantasy.

For those who have felt that they could not fully appreciate the merits of abstract painting, a visit to City Art and an inspection of Patton Blackwell’s work over the past four decades offer an opportunity to engage both your eyes and psyche by immersing yourself in color and form.

Four Decades of Patton Blackwell

Through September. City Art, 1224 Lincoln St. 803-252-3613,

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