The Spaces In Between

Page 1




Don Voisine Ruri Yi

Essay by Paul Corio May 21 – July 07, 2022

Detail: Ruri Yi, Eq. 010, 2021 ©Ruri Yi


The Spaces In Between by Paul Corio

When considering the particular works of Ruri Yi and Don Voisine that comprise this exhibition, there are certain affinities that announce themselves immediately: most prominently the highly distilled, geometric figures which both artists use to such good effect, and, second to this, the dramatic and dominant use of black. Taken together, both of these things call to mind an entire lineage of 20th century modernism and minimalism; Malevich, Reinhardt, Frederick Hammersly, Tony Smith, Serra’s works on paper, and Ellsworth Kelly are all artists that either episodically or programmatically used simple and bold black forms because of their particular combination of force and seductiveness.

Much ink has already been spilled about that particular history, though, and while not ignoring it, I’d prefer to focus on two other aspects of Yi’s and Voisine’s work: first, the components and motivations that don’t comport neatly with the history and theoretics of hard-edged abstraction (black or otherwise), and which might be missed without a more comprehensive understanding of both artists’ work. And secondly, I want to discuss the spaces in between the shapes that populate these works. These negative spaces give the paintings their particular character, perhaps even more so than the simplified forms which claim the greater part of the viewer’s attention.


The floor plan as starting point, with its varying configurations of doorways, stairs, windows, etc., bears comment: the view is from above, and more importantly, the greater part of the space in the picture area is negative space, or the space in between the compositional events in the room itself. Therefore, the genealogy of Voisine’s forms – the shapes in his pictures which are generally understood as positive – derives from the negative spaces in his original source material. It should come as no surprise that black was a natural choice for these large negatives, or voids, and also that there would tend to be a fluid spatial arrangement Magazine Cover: The Downtown Review, fall 1980, vol.2 no.3

Don Voisine’s early abstractions from the 1980’s were not derived from the viewpoint of modernist purity (which at that time was showing wear) but come from a much more everyday source: for years, the artist worked on crews that renovated apartments, and the floor plans of the rooms he worked on or lived in became the formats for his abstract paintings. While not interested in theories of pictorial autonomy, Voisine was equally unimpressed by the Neo-Expressionist paintings of that era; histrionic gestures and arbitrary compositional decisions held little appeal for him. Architecture, then, presented a pathway.


Don Voisine, Piet 1, 1988, Oil on linen ©️Don Voisine

between the positive, the negative, and the framing elements in the paintings, with the large positive shapes always threatening to return to their original identity as in-between spaces. His current work no longer relies on the floor plan as a compositional guide, but the spatial arrangement in his pictures still owes much to these early works – it is the DNA of Voisine’s vocabulary. This fluidity of spatial understanding is fully evident in Voisine’s Roundabout from 2019-20. The artist’s signature X shape inhabits the center of the picture in a deep blue-black. It is framed in triplicate; interior L shapes on the right and left are flanked outside by two vertical bars. The four white triangles are initially understood as the leftover spaces which define the X, but the framing elements and color choices quickly throw this into flux. The two L-shaped frames begin at the sides of the two white triangles top and bottom, and appear to be emanating from behind them. The left L fully slips behind the triangular negative in the center left. This process is somewhat slow to announce itself because the graphite color of the L-shaped framing elements and the blue-black of the central motif are quite close in value and tend to assimilate.

Detail: Don Voisine, Roundabout, 2019-20 ©️Don Voisine

But once the framing visually weaves itself underneath the white triangles, the latter become bold positives, and when viewed in this orientation the understanding of an X breaks down completely - the center of the picture becomes pure void. When the center is perceived in this way, the blue and grey verticals on the right and left become a doorway or window frame through which one views a yawning space in between.


Like Voisine, Ruri Yi’s early abstractions were based on architecture. Her journey to abstraction was, however, somewhat more circuitous - she began by making representational paintings reminiscent of post-impressionism with an emphasis on landscape. Her first forays into abstraction were geometric and semiabstract, and in this way analogous to much early cubism. The figures in these paintings were clearly derived from buildings, but they were not depictions of buildings as such; facets and windows overlapped and folded in a variety of ways so as

to make the structures impossible to visualize in real space, but the vestigial clues to their sources remained unmistakably representational. From there a winnowing process began, below described in the artist’s own words (and from which I borrowed the title of this exhibition):

When I look at my surroundings, I try to see forms, colors, and surfaces, as I analyze and transform them into varied surfaces, reinterpreting elements of the urban landscape and its in-between spaces.

Installation view. Photograph by Gregory Staley. Courtesy of Pazo Fine Art


Detail: Ruri Yi, Eq. 003, 2020 ©Ruri Yi

Contrasting two different threads of Yi’s Eq. Series illustrates just how dramatically different these apparently simple pictures become via the adjustment of negative spaces. In the larger paintings from this group, the capsule shapes are arranged on a strict grid (it is worth noting parenthetically that these pictures are derived from racetrack shapes, which is to say, architecture viewed from above, as in Voisine’s early floor plan works). In Eq 003 from 2020, the black shapes

are immediately understood as positive, but the negative spaces between the black shapes transform fairly easily into positive quasar shapes in white, with both positive and negative remaining resolutely close to the picture surface. Something else happens, however, to the spaces around the small selection of colored capsules on each canvas: the floor, as it were, drops out. The black capsules stay stubbornly at the level of the picture plane, but the colored capsules arrange themselves at varying


which its curvature begins. This small tilt transforms the painting into something else entirely: tombstones come to mind, as do simplified figures engaged in a kiss; this small alteration of the space in between yields an entirely different understanding, and not just visually: the imagination is immediately engaged in a different way, and symbolic and narrative interpretations, each according to the viewers own subjectivity, begin to emerge. This picture is playful in the most positive sense of the word.

Detail: Ruri Yi, Untitled (L01), 2019 ©️Ruri Yi

distances backward (or downward), depending upon the tonal value and saturation of a given color – in this particular case, the pink in the lower left dramatically recedes and the gray in the upper right less so. A dominantly lateral abstraction becomes a dimensional space, and the in-between spaces change from plane to thin air. That transformation from literal surface to representational space is even more dramatic when one or more of the shapes are tilted, if only slightly. Untitled L01 from 2019, features two vertical capsules which are cut off at the bottom of the canvas. The left-hand shape leans slightly right, touching its right-hand counterpart at the point at


The fact that both of these artists found their way into abstraction via architecture is significant not only from the standpoint of shared sensibilities, but because it sidesteps the central dogma behind so much abstraction of the 20th century (hard-edged and otherwise) which is that abstract painting should refer to nothing outside of its own existence. As this notion became increasingly limiting and ultimately untenable it was soon obvious that it is impossible to make a picture that exists wholly outside human experience. There are many that abandoned abstraction after this realization became concrete. There are others, however, like the two artists in this exhibition, that arrived at more personal and subtle bargains with abstraction.

Understanding that its history was rich even if its dominant theoretical underpinnings were flawed, they created their own path. For Ruri Yi and Don Voisine, this path was articulated, at least in part, by the spaces in between. Paul Corio, April 2022


the Works Installation view. Photograph by Gregory Staley. Courtesy of Pazo Fine Art

Don Voisine

Carré, 2011 Oil on panel 44 x 44 in 111.8 x 111.8 cm




Ruri Yi

Eq. 020, 2022 Acrylic on canvas 16 x 44 in 40.6 x 111.8 cm


Ruri Yi

Eq. 009, 2021 Acrylic on canvas 66 x 54 in 167.6 x 137.2 cm




Don Voisine

Mirror/Mirror, 2020 Oil on panel 53 x 80 in 134.6 x 203.2 cm


Installation view. Photograph by Gregory Staley. Courtesy of Pazo Fine Art

Ruri Yi

Untitled (L01), 2019 Acrylic on canvas 30 x 30 in 76.2 x 76.2 cm




Don Voisine

Up Lift, 2020 Oil and acrylic on panel 16 x 12 in 40.6 x 30.5 cm


Installation view. Photograph by Gregory Staley. Courtesy of Pazo Fine Art



Don Voisine

Roundabout, 2019-20 Oil on panel 40 x 40 in 101.6 x 101.6 cm




Don Voisine

Prong, 2020 Oil on panel 40 x 40 in 101.6 x 101.6 cm


Ruri Yi

Eq. 003, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 66 x 54 in 167.6 x 137.2 cm




Ruri Yi

Eq. 005, 2021 Acrylic on canvas 30 x 30 in 76.2 x 76.2 cm


Ruri Yi

Eq. 010, 2021 Acrylic on canvas 66 x 54 in 167.6 x 137.2 cm




Don Voisine

Maize, 2021 Oil on panel 22 x 22 in 55.9 x 55.9 cm


Photopgraph by Hilary Schaffner. Courtesy of The Surf Point Foundation.


Don Voisine (American, B. 1952 ) Don Voisine, born in Fort Kent, ME, attended the Portland School of Art, and Concept School for Visual Studies in Portland, ME. He received an honorary BFA from the Maine College of Art in 2000. Exhibiting regularly in the U. S. and Europe, Voisine was the subject of a 15-year survey of his paintings at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (Rockland, ME) in the fall of 2016 and recently had solo exhibitions with McKenzie Fine Art (New York, NY), Pamela Salisbury Gallery (Hudson, NY), and Robischon Gallery (Denver, CO). Since 1997 Voisine has been a member of American Abstract Artists, an artist-run organization founded in 1936, and served as its President from 2004 to 2012. In 2010 he was elected to the National Academy of Design, serving on the membership committee for 9 years. His work has been reviewed in Art in America, Art News, The New York Times, The New Criterion, Hyperallergic and The Brooklyn Rail. Public collections include: Katzen Arts Center, American University, Washington, DC; Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; Colby Museum of Art, Waterville, ME; Special Collection of the Library, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Academy Museum, New York, NY; Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJ; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA; and Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME. Voisine lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.


Ruri Yi (S. Korean/American, B. 1969) Ruri Yi is a visual artist. Her paintings portray static, abstracted images reinterpreting elements of urban landscapes and in-between spaces through hardedged lines, minimalist compositions, symbolic figures, and balanced colors. Her visual language manifests the serene by way of abstraction, color, and composition. Balance, weight, and time are associated with a universal visual language that reflects an autonomous state. Her work has been exhibited in a number of solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including Departure as a Domestic, The Reinstitute (Baltimore, MD); The Necessity of Tomorrow, Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD); 'sindikit project @ Foyer Arts Gallery, USQ (Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia); Abstract Non/Binaries, Guest Spot (Baltimore, MD); WPA (Washington, DC); Transmitter (Brooklyn, NY); Strictural Structures of Radical Reduction, TSA (Brooklyn, NY); Main Art Gallery, University of Maryland UC (College Park, MD); Bromo-Seltzer Art Tower (Baltimore, MD); Institute of Contemporary Art (Baltimore, MD); School 33 Art Center (Baltimore, MD); Main Line Art Center (Haverford, PA). Ruri Yi is originally from Seoul, South Korea, and now works and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia, PA). Yi is currently a founder/ director and curator of MONO PRACTICE (c. 2018) in the Station North Art District in Baltimore City, Maryland.


Ruri Yi at her studio ©️Ruri Yi


Published on the occasion of the exhibition THE SPACES IN BETWEEN May 21 – July 07, 2022 Edited by Luis Pazo and Victor de la Cruz Essay © 2022 by Paul Corio Design by Victor de la Cruz Printed by MIXAM, Illinois, Chicago Photographs by Jim Dingilian and Gregory Staley We would like to thank Paul Corio for the contribution of his insightful essay. We are especially grateful to Don Voisine, Ruri Yi, and Valerie McKenzie for their unwavering support in the production of this exhibition.

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