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An abstract way of thinking  
Blue Greenberg 
"Constance Pappalardo: Mixed Media Paintings, Of Two Minds," 
Joe Rowand Art Gallery, 1713 Legion Road, Chapel Hill, through Sept. 28. 
Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
For information, call 919-869-7247. 
Most of us have specific ideas about abstract painting and what it looks like; we would say there are colors and shapes, but no realistic objects. This is not wrong; the problem is there are so many variations. For example, the Impressionists painted fields purple and orange and yellow and used a very loose brushstroke; opinions covered the gamut from "these are just sketches" because the surface is unfinished to "the artists are throwing paint on the canvas" since realistic objects in the canvas are obvious only at a distance. 
The Russian Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) gets credit for inventing abstract painting, but he likened his images to music, endowing various colors with the sounds of musical instruments. Other Russians of the early 20th century made paintings with just lines, shapes and color and declared art's independence from the real world. 
Constance Pappalardo describes her paintings as contemporary abstract watercolors; they are either in black and white or vivid color. Their underlying core is a series of lines applied with a straight edge in varying widths across the canvas surface. The black and white paintings, with their vertical lines, have musical names like "Fugue," "Opus" and "Toccato." You might say the lines relate to the electronic translation of music, which is visualized as an assortment of lines. Her colored canvases feel like landscapes or seascapes and have ambiguous names as well as specific references, so we get "Meditation," "Primavera" and "El Mar." 
Watercolor is a difficult medium and unforgiving. Sometimes the surfaces of the landscapes have paint so thin the weave of the canvas insists itself on the spectator's consciousness; often the paint gently bleeds downward. And then the paint can be thick, adding other texture. Her combinations speak to her artistry and mastery of the medium. Whatever the paint does, the artist allows; she is always in control. 
The black and white images are even more precise. There is the off white background sectioned by black lines with drips and bleeds at right angles. Impossible, she must have painted these verticals as horizontals and then turned them. And just to keep us off balance, she writes "the Last Man on Earth" on one of them. 
But Papparlardo is not finished; her latest canvases have just enough realism to show us a new progression. One of the heavily colored ones has two birds, one in the lower left corner and one in the upper right and two smaller black and whites have broader lines which sprout leaves. Now we are sure, the ones with brilliant colors are landscapes and the black and whites are forests. Yes, she tells us, these are realistic, yet the birds are just two thick brush marks and the leaves are flat spade-like flecks. 
It is the problem we have with abstraction. The artist has led us on a merry chase and under her very experienced guidance, we see exactly what she wants us to see and we delight in her artistry. 
Blue Greenberg's column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 
P.O. Box 2092, Durham, NC 27702. 
Copyright, 2012, The Durham Herald Company 
Record Number: d6bca0188d3c996f2f6103c33dfe16fe 
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