Fair and Warmer: Two Artists/One Path

August 2nd, 2013  |  Published in July-August 2013  |  1 Comment

Fair and Warmer
by Fran Watson

Two Artists/One Path

Barb Ahlbrand and Jackie Frey
Cincinnati YWCA Women’s Art Gallery
June 21 – September 12, 2013

Hot! Hot! Hot! with art to match the climate at the downtown YWCA gallery . Big, juicy masses of color fan the flames of energy in nearly every one of the works by Barb Ahlbrand and Jackie Frey.. This is definitely the show for abstract expressionism fans.

At first glance, the work seems so similar that it could have been all done by one artist, but after the first quick impression, differences begin to emerge. Each artist expands and exhibits individual characteristics that slowly separate similarities.

Both artists allow figurative elements to dominate the paintings, in often unexpected forms. Ahlbrand subtly camouflages hands, legs, feet, and full figures in incongruous colors on three large paper pieces on one wall. “Crossings”, “Flagbearers” and “Numbered Among the Company” share a primitive melange of body parts floating, dancing, and marching through painted areas which range from pudding thick to watery puddled. This pseudo-simple collection is further enhanced by being captured under transparent covering and hung without frames. The effect of these large, (36” x 51”), pale paintings shown without limiting edges or embellishment emphasizes their quiet sophistication.

Jackie Frey

Both artists show abstraction on paper supports, and it is this mode which most clearly separates the two. Frey’s female figures are easily recognized emerging in heavily marked lines from painted and underpainted backgrounds. Working on paper seems to cool her frenzy of brush strokes, settling into more comprehensive color forms. The smaller paper paintings are reminiscent of the late Jack Meanwell’s nudes, complete with the meandering lines which defy expectations and end up just where they should. Frey never quite forgets her model. After many a carefree jaunt through lots of paint, she pulls the viewer back to the familiar torso every time. One of her expeditions through the figure ended with a leftover gray square in the lower right hand corner breaking into the strong reds and ochres with perfect timing. Little moments like this can make a painting.

Four 6” x 6” acrylic and graphite pieces occupy a small bit of wall next to a door. These are nudes inscribed into dry or nearly dry paint. More drawing than painting, they do much to identify Frey’s strong involvement with the figure.

Two of the largest pieces shown here hang over the stairway. They are “Micheliesque” and “Orange for ‘A’”. Both are by Ahlbrand, and both are show stoppers. They scribble, drip, explode, and seem unable to stop the perpetual motion of color and shapes, all of which seem to intuitively occupy the only perfect space for them. Probing separate elements is futile, since each complex area only leads to another complex area. Thus there is no end to its investigation. They are completely different, yet completely equal in quality.

Barbara Ahlbrand

A group of related works made an appearance starting on a wall facing a narrow corridor. Ahlbrand launched this new direction through an interest in Robert Ryman’s monochromatic space and light studies. Large and medium paintings concentrated on silver enamel paint covering the major area of the canvas. Sometimes pastel underpainting is brushed toward the edges from underneath, in other cases an impasto door of paint anchors the bottom of the painting, opening (or closing) the silver to some mysterious interior. The most intriguing three of this style, farther back in the hallway, were interrupted by small realistic portrayals of #1. a cow, #2. a pig, and #3. a corn stalk. One could never anticipate the sheer shock of these prosaic intrusions into the heavy silver paint , nor predict their unlikely appropriateness.

These shimmering, thoroughly abstract compositions obviously belonged to one stream of creativity, and would have better shown their progress and unpredictable conclusion were they arranged together in a space where their impact could have been more easily followed and considered. Nonetheless, their continuity, however displayed, provided a satisfying conclusion to the barrage of paint in action offered by both artists.


  1. Barbara Ahlbrand says:

    August 20th, 2013at 7:18 pm(#)

    Reading Fran’s piece makes me feel like I’m standing in front of the painting brush in hand. She brings such a tactile message in talking about the work. I feel she is giving the readers a crash course on Abstract Expressionism; not only describing what there is visually but how it came to be.