Letting in Light Through Effervescent Loops

The loop is Natalie Alper's signature, but in truth, it's more than that. The loop is the thing that happens in her abstract/action paintings, that cuts across the canvas, takes a left curve, whips all the way around, and then keeps going. Sometimes it makes a few spins, but that's all it takes to lasso us.

In many ways, however, the loop is just a little thing, a constant, a strap we can grab and hold onto for the ride.

Alper's paintings are fast and furious. They don't wait for us; we have to jump on. And while her abstract gestures don't tell us specifically where we are or where we're going, they do suggest landscape, a bog buzzing with activity, someplace watery, energized by an interior life.

What has always attracted me to Alper's work is this slippery, almost frantic expression of watery-ness. More than what she paints, it is the way she paints. Calling the process wet-in-wet (layer upon layer of paint fused together while it is still liquid) wouldn't even begin to say it. Her circling, spiraling whirlwind of emotionally charged mark-making is as strangely calming as it is vitalizing.

But before she begins to paint, before the thin washes of color flood the canvas and the broad thick brush strokes get slapped on complete with drips, Alper inscribes the surface of the canvas or paper to prepare it. These cursive ``scribblings'' of graphite or charcoal call on her muse and suggest possibilities. They have to set the stage, the proper mood, and get it right. Only after this happens does the paint come, and then Alper unleashes it and herself.

Ultimately, what defines Alper's work is the way that, in the process of creating her loops, she reaches back through the paint and touches the light born to the canvas or paper beneath. She does this by essentially ``wiping'' off the wet acrylic with some dry mark-making instrument: a stick, a knife, the end of a brush, or a finger. It is like drawing in the wet paint. By pulling the light back into the painting this way, a curious thing happens, something almost paradoxical.

She brings the back to the front and folds the painting inside, creating another kind of loop, a much larger and more magical loop for which the others are just a sign. Alper makes alchemy happen, something powerful, beyond comprehension, but no less inspiring even though we can only witness it.

There is no getting around the emotional impact and experience of this watery-ness in Alper's paintings. Even the richness of her palette turns to a lush but muddy support for the silvery reflections conjured by her brush. Some of the marks that cut through the paint also slash diagonally across the picture plane, like sticks or branches disappearing into the pools below, adding to the suggestion of woodland pond or marsh-like landscape.

What we get in the end from Natalie Alper is much more than the loop.

Inside the fold, there is a place shimmering with breathtaking intensity, an emotional and aesthetic bath, a baptism of water and light.

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