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Turn It Up

You can almost hear these abstract paintings.

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Javier Tapia, a longtime professor in Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Painting and Printmaking, has produced five large paintings for his latest show at Reynolds Gallery, simply titled “New Watercolors.” These densely layered and highly colorful works fill the gallery and offer an opportunity to delve into the territory of deciphering abstraction.

The surfaces of these paintings recall Abstract Expressionism, characterized by expressive gestural mark-making and playful color, except that Tapia uses watercolor rather than oil. One might dismiss this substitution as the slimmest of distinctions, but this causes so much confusion in Tapia's works. The brush strokes found in these works become both bold and delicate, and the repeated application of transparent pigment plays between full saturated color and more subtle grays.

When looking at abstract works, it's easy to see them the way you might see clouds blowing by — you end up discussing their resemblance to anything but clouds. The problem is that these discussions focus on things that really aren't found in the work, leaving us with no more insight than when we started. Attempting to decipher the artist's intentions often proves much more rewarding.

Tapia's mark making and color make an excellent argument for an attachment to music. The staccato marks found in each of the works feel akin to the strum of a guitar, the colors as notes, the pictures as repetitions of movements and layering of chords. Tapia plays the role of both musician and producer: As he records the strokes of color on each surface, he constantly adjusts the mix. He tweaks each stroke by degrees, generating a range of texture and color which hum in harmony, dissolve into white noise or wail in discordant vibrations.

Viewing Javier Tapia's newest works creates an appreciation of the search found in the practice of those artists who call themselves abstractionists. New territory is not easy to stake a claim in, but Tapia finds it, through adjustments in degrees, in mixes and subtleties.  S

Works by Javier Tapia and Isabel Bigelow are on display through Jan. 17 at Reynolds Gallery, 1514 W. Main St. 355-6553.

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