In an increasingly concept-driven art world, abstract painting can come across as a gutless kowtow to the well-trod territory of modernism. These days, explaining away abstraction as an expression of the inexpressible sounds more like a woeful lack of direction than adventurous art theory. It's a relief, then, to see a gallery full of abstract paintings that don't seem to rely on intellectual interpretation for their relevance. Instead, G. Lewis Clevenger's Under Reconstruction, a selection of new paintings at Pulliam Deffenbaugh, speaks quietly with its textured surfaces and complex palettes. Like his previous work, the paintings in Under Reconstruction draw inspiration from Clevenger's interest in architecture. His canvases are nearly all composed of rigid, right-angled shapes. But, after spending some time with the paintings, certain vague forms emerge. The grids begin to resemble architectural blueprints; the squares and rectangles become windows and doors. When Clevenger uses a palette knife to scrape paint off of his canvases, creating irregular blotches and exposing concealed layers, it looks similar to concrete that has been eroded by the elements. Still, these references to urban environments are hardly obvious. His palettes are far more colorful than the drab grayscale of a city setting, full of vibrant oranges, reds, yellows, and blues.
One of the show's loveliest works is "Country House." Like the other paintings, it is divided into rectangles of varying size. Each partition juxtaposes two gorgeous, complementary tones, so that bright orange mingles with cornflower blue, olive with puce, and so on. Here, Clevenger's palette knife scrapes resemble the stems and fingers of autumn leaves. Fall, a transitional stage, is further represented in the balance between tones that veer from light and sunny to cool and brooding. It's a slight departure from the urban motif, but it retains the pervasive tension between the violent dynamism created by Clevenger's knife and the ordered composition of the geometric patterns. In all, the richly textured canvases in Under Reconstruction create a subtly thoughtful meditation on color and form.