When it comes to painting, evoking the elements calls for elemental solutions. In three beautiful exhibitions in Chelsea right now, contemporary artists balance a fascination with water, clouds, and ethereal, billowing forms with audacious experimental attitudes toward traditional materials. Each body of work manifests a heightened consciousness of paint's formal properties that are appropriate to what it is depicting, in terms of liquidity or brittleness, fluency or arrest.
Another point in common between Christopher Cook, showing at Mary Ryan Gallery, fellow Englishman Richard Ballard at Robert Steele Gallery, and Jiha Moon at Moti Hasson Gallery, is that they all work on paper mounted to another support (such as canvas or aluminum) and presented unglazed. This affords lively, intriguing surfaces that subtly absorb the gaze as if it were another medium.
Ms. Moon goes for the jugular in exhilaratingly complex, brightly hued fantasy evocations of waves and clouds. This is the debut solo exhibition of the young Korean-born artist who is based in Atlanta, Ga.
Her paintings are staged collisions, both literally and culturally. A typical work is a bright cacophony, meticulously orchestrated to keep billowy forms and textures distinct. The associations are high and low, east and west, looking with equal and random enthusiasm to Pan-Asian anime effects, Old Master drawing techniques, and psychedelic pop abstraction.
"Scholar's Garden" (2007) describes a lovingly complex imaginary space in which credible perspective and ornamental flatness are fused and confused. There are deliciously jarring greens for distant and proximate verdure. Viscous, coagulating acrylic sits upon ethereal, subdued ink washes, evoking disparate senses of scale.
The smaller works are better resolved, generally, than the larger ones, and in one or two instances the use of decals seems forced and predictable. But by and large this is a debut that trumpets technical accomplishment and formal ambition. It is hard to say what, if anything, these mad landscapes mean, but they are rich and fun, inviting exploration.