ART LTD – MAY / JUNE 2014
MICHAEL MAAS – MORE OF LESS
Brett Rubbico Gallery, Newport Beach, CA
Saturated colors, reflecting surfaces, passionate sensuality and a meditative presence are just some of the many characteristics to be found in Michael Maas’s paintings. Based on Maas’s unique exploration and integration of the Alhambra S curve, each painting is a variation on a theme that is given its own color palette, pattern, light, reflection, and atmospheric mood. There is never repetition, as each painting is an individual study with its own vision and strength.
Maas transforms store-bought acrylics and wood panel into a surface that embraces the viewer with a radiant glow that continuously changes throughout the day. Even more importantly, he achieves an aura that affects the viewer on a soulful level. The artist tells that at one time he wanted to convey a sense of atmosphere, light coming deeply from within the painted surface; but it was a daunting task. “When you think it’s impossible you give up too soon.” However, Maas did not give up, but studied painters from many ages whose focus was a tight range of highly contrasting colors to convey intense light. Maas creates horizontal and vertical trompe-l’oeil illusions that play the background and foreground against each other while lines of S curves sweep across the surface horizontally and vertically. Applying many layers of different but closely related tones, Maas perseveres. “Once you know something is possible it’s so much easier to do.”
Maas’s paintings are based on a paradox, a profound sense of color applied flatly that interacts and snake around his S curve. Upon close inspection, each curve is unique to the art. Maas draws the curve by hand, cuts it out of cardboard, or prepares an adhesive stencil on the computer to get just the right curve, angle, and dimensions. At times he flips the curve giving it an irregular contoured top and bottom. The curve is not symmetrical, but shifts slightly. This irregular illusion appears to be regular, something like Vermeer’s parallel lines which seem straight, when in fact, they are not. Next comes many other layers of paint before the curve stencil is removed and the painting is meticulously scrutinized as Maas checks every detail - patterns, colors, space, and, of course, light.
Maas concludes that a painting “has more control over me than I over it. The painting tells me what to do. Sometimes the lines want to move, or a pattern needs adjustment.” Maas does not have any one way he brings a painting to fruition. An outstanding colorist, he constantly tries new techniques and color combinations, and fresh contours for his S curves. Thus, Maas’s ceaselessly searches to fine tune how light is emitted from a flat painted surface, has evolved into a superb body of art.
ARTSCENE March 2014
March 5, 2005, Long Beach (California) Grunion Gazette, Eye On Art
Exhibit At Viento Y Agua Provides Feast For Eyes
By James Scarborough
Gazette Art Writer
Think fast — what comes to mind when you think lovely abstract designs, a Moorish aesthetic, rich color schemes?
Alhambra, right? And I don’t mean the one nestled against the California mountains.
What also will come to mind, or at least should, is Michael Maas’ titillating exhibition, “Summer/Winter/Madonna/Alhambra” at the Viento Y Agua Gallery.
These saucy acrylics on wood panels serve up an extraordinary visual feast. There’s a lot going on here visually, so don’t plan to whisk through the show.
The work fooled me to an extraordinary degree, not in terms of trompe l’oeil, but in terms of mistaking one medium for another. Each image’s potency resides in optical illusion, at least when you get to know the work a little better.
Each image unsettles the viewer with a purposeful confusion of positive and negative space. The viewer doesn’t know what’s in the front or back of the picture plane and what’s in positive and negative space. The work resembles a poetic psychologist’s Rorschach test. When I first saw the exhibition postcard, I thought the work was ceramic tile, a huge ceramic tile. With the word “Alhambra” in the title, I figured the decoration would be the sort of thing that would adorn a marketplace in Tunis.
That was the impression, too, when I looked in the window of the gallery. The work looked like it was ceramic: glossy, rounded, a little textured. Each piece repeated the same pattern of abstract images and each appeared as if it was being viewed underwater. The larger patterns looked like diamonds standing on their point, their edges fuzzy and vibrating.
Situated in the centers of each of these diamonds are shapes that look like chess pawns folded over themselves, or else lollipop Pac Men. These shapes in turn pulsated and quivered. They reminded me of panning for fool’s gold and ersatz gems at Knott’s Berry Farm when I was a kid. As I approached the large piece in the entryway, the mesmerizing rhapsody in purple entitled Alhambra Series #56, the most amazing thing happened. I felt like I was being vacuumed into the piece. Talk about a work’s hold on a viewer. A center channel, undrawn but right where one would crease the piece on its horizontal axis, which appears to be a trough or a sluice, drew me right up to the piece.
Only then, to my utter amazement, did I realize that the work was a painting and all those visual effects were the result of modeling. That’s when I understood that the artist had done something just short of miraculous: he activated the picture plane in ways uncommon and energetic and he had so effectively created the illusion of space that these things even now, in my memory of the show, the work reminds me of tiles in a Moorish courtyard.
The exhibition runs until March 26. Gallery hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
The gallery is located at 4007 E. Fourth St. For more information, call 434-1182.
Essay By Suvan Geer
November 21, 2002
The biomorphic geo-abstractions of painter Michael Maas strike a distinct note of friendly familiarity and an odd sense of disorientation. The forms he paints are simple - rounded interlocking shapes that seem to flow or latch into each other with a determined will. Repeatedly. Indeed, we are not sure when looking at them if it is the repetition of the male/female pairing that makes them appear so familiar or if we really have seen that coupling elsewhere. Perhaps in nature; in nestling rolling hills or a water smoothed tide line between rocks, perhaps in the calligraphic mazes of Islamic art, or maybe in less lofty places like lava lamps, cartoons or poured syrup. Visual associations tumble around behind our eyes as we trace the shapes over and over, all the while the seemingly unending abstract pattern nudges at us to remember yet resists settling down into anything specific.
As a self-taught artist Maas pursues his paintings with a controlled obsession paying open visual homage to the influences of M.C. Escher and Jackson Pollock. His “Alhambra Series” is a tribute to Escher and the inspiration that artist found in the interlocking geometric Moorish designs that decorate the walls of the great Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain. Escher transformed the inspiration of the tile work at the palace into a visual exploration of what are essentially mathematical structures called “tessellations”, repeating geometric patterns that seem to go on forever. Maas’ painted units of undulating, identical jigsaw fragments similarly seem to go on and on, from one canvas to another to another. In that way their unity and multiplication suggests a kind of computerized update of the ancient Moor’s Islamic concepts of cosmic order. Though this is a more modern, circuit board kind of logic it too is wedded to the inherent spiritual and psychological release of a repeated visual mantra. What the artist calls “getting lost” in the image.
The seeming liquidity of the all over forms Maas paints also suggest Jackson Pollock’s more free wheeling drip paintings that had neither a beginning or an end. But in place of the gestural freedom Pollack used to visually imply that the power of the image could not be contained by the painting’s surface, Maas uses pattern and repetition of the individual units from image to image to suggest that what we are looking at is only a fraction of the larger whole. Just as Pollock’s largest canvases presented painting as an all encompassing environment for the spectator and so undid the Renaissance idea of paintings as detached and self contained worlds so Maas’s unrelenting units of repetition insist that all paintings are fragments of a larger system. If only we could see the pattern
Like Pollock, Maas makes images that are restless. His forms appear to be identical yet some are fragments, others whole. Image to image they change in color, shift from flat to dimensional, up to down, and ground to foreground. All these changes generate a kind of movement - a motion that takes place in memory even more than on the painting itself. But coupled with the painted form’s suggested liquidity the illusion of motion becomes continuous, slow but unyielding.
Yet for all the intelligence of their visual references Maas’ paintings are also playful and unintimidating. In part that’s due to the bright acrylic colors he selects: vibrant reds, radiant yellows, glowing bubblegum pinks, jewel-like violets and blues. These are eye candy color delights in the pure-fun vein of Kenny Scharf’s newest pop-surrealist ‘splurt’ images. But with the equally seductive, but more serious, all-you-need-is-color distillation of Karl Benjamin. Maas paints in transparent layers building depth and richness to achieve the vivid potency of his enervated color. In return it gives his simple geometric forms an appealing cartoonish unreality that tones down the work’s suggestions of formal sophistication.
That lack of pretense and appreciation for the seductive power of pure painting is typical of the artist who makes a concerted effort not to think too much about his painting’s suggested meanings. Maas values the direct visual appeal of intense color that allows the spectator to enter into the abstract optical games he initiates. Once attracted however it is the pliant, interlocking forms that suggest the connections and relationships that make the images satisfying or intriguing. Wisely the artist allows those associations to remain open ended.
Escher once wrote about the mathematical principals upon which his art was based that they were, “a gate leading to an extensive domain”. For him what lay beyond the gate was a riotous garden that he constantly imagined and re-imaged as nesting, shifting worlds and interwoven creatures. Within his warping, two-dimensional spaces visual paradox ruled and imagination soared. Maas’ domain is more abstract and clearly still evolving. But his enthusiasm for painting as a way to tenaciously explore visual concepts of space within illusions of motion and way he summons all the landscapes of memory promise to make the development worth watching.
Biomorphic Abstract Artist
Michael Maas, "Alhambra Confluence #117," 2013, acrylic/spray on panel, 16 x 12", is currently on view at Brett Rubbico.
A superb colorist, Michael Maas focuses on how much he can tighten the distance between similar but distinct tones; and how much he can bring colors further apart while maintaining a tight range of saturated and highly contrasting colors. Not only does Maas effect minute changes in hues; that artist effect subtle alterations overall, abstract configurations of vertical or horizontal trompe l'œil illusions made with a slightly skewed foreground, background, and the repeated presence of his signature Alhambra S-curves.
Most artists who focus on color as subject maximize or minimize the range of tones on a rectangular ground, as they repeatedly apply flat color on flat color in multiple layers and sensitively alter the tonal qualities from below to above the surface. But it is Maas’s shapely curve that is here the real challenge. Like a master violinist who finds the hidden sound between two consecutive notes, Maas’s colors must snake around a curvilinear image, adding to the painting’s inner dynamics. The work is so sensitively created that there is never redundancy nor boredom, only the thrill of breathtaking nuances of colors, relationships of shapes, and an overall original shimmering ground that is downright hypnotic.
Previously, Maas’s S-curve patterns came alive only in broad daylight. Now the color of these acrylic on panel paintings takes on an added dimension by becoming lively at any time of day or night, in ambient light, or when the painting is viewed from its left or its right side. When Maas flips the Alhambra curve the formal elements of color, mood, space and composition become affected. A blue may look like a blue gray or a gray. An orange may become darker or lighter. The black-on-black paintings are simply brilliant. Another consideration is how Maas explores negative space and even some blank areas. Consequently what seems invisible pulls its weight in the energy of each painting, while projecting an aura that glows, and at times, seems haunting and ghostly. These 20 paintings of various sizes and intricacies of execution project stimulating, beautiful, yet calming atmospherics (Brett Rubbico Gallery, Orange County).