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Color play 

Contemporary abstractions at City Gallery East

With abstraction comes paradox. How to confront the grid and transform it into a nonlinear aesthetic encounter? Abstract painting, and particularly abstract expressionism, has been credited mostly to Jackson Pollack, Brice Marden and pals. A recent show of paintings by the late Norman Lewis at Clark Atlanta University and the two current African-American exhibitions at CAU and the High Museum prove otherwise. This summer, nine contemporary black artists are brought together at City Gallery East in the show African American Abstraction. Director Karen Comer selected their work to illustrate abstract interpretations of science, music and spirituality.

The work largest in scale and most exuberant is that of Atlanta artist Mildred Thompson. For a while now, her work has contemplated the effects of physics. "I paint about how things go through filters and change by disturbing the elements," she says. In this show, Thompson shares excerpts from the "Music of the Spheres" series, a trio of enormous, three-paneled paintings from 1996. Her abstractions are overwhelmed with bursts and streaks of red, yellow and orange.

Guyana-born Frank Bowling's visceral paintings hold surfaces thick with resin and pigment. His "Lookinwest 1 & 2" from 1990 is a narrow vertical diptych. Watery splashes in yellow, greens and blues might be the view through a window on a rainy spring day. Color play in Joe Overstreet's series of "Screen Theory" paintings moves from pastel rectangles to swirls of yellow, blue and red, then back to dense blocks of orange, burnt yellow and blue. On each canvas, pigment is impressed through the grid of a metal screen. The New York artist has been at the forefront of expressionism for 40 years.

London-based Jerald Ieans works his usual magic from the humblest and most unexpected media: Elmer's glue. He first coats his large-scale canvases in a slick scrim of glue, then paints in oil on top. A pattern of oval dots covers the surface of his wonderful "White on White" from 1995.

Atlanta artist Freddie Styles, whose work was recently on view at Kiang Gallery, takes a nonverbal position on artmaking. Plants and roots people his painted and collaged surfaces. Styles' early work, a textured, blue-gray root painting, is less compelling than his ethereal collages in white, black and silver.

Lance Lamont, born in New York, is now an increasingly accomplished Atlanta artist. He paints in great washes of rusty and inky pigment. "Bio" bubbles with rust like a sheet of metal broken down by the elements. In contrast, "Tomb" is a smooth muddle of black and gray. Wet swirls and angles of color are the trademark of paintings by Michael Scoffield of Atlanta. "Between Friends," a 48-by-38-inch composition, glimmers with blue, yellow and green reflections.

From North Carolina, Vandorn Hinnant's drawings seem to draw their forms from a Spirograph. Muted and flat, they come to life in his small-scale cheesecloth and bamboo sculptures. One wants those lyric, airy forms to keep going forever. Hinnant's fragile sculptures seem as out of place in this show as the feathery ceramic installations of Atlanta-based Attiya Melton and Thompson's wooden bird sculptures.

Even in its weakest moments, African American Abstraction is a powerful show. Timed to coincide with the 2000 National Black Arts Festival, these contemporary abstractions join an awesome flood of black art flowing through Atlanta this summer. u

African American Abstraction continues through Aug. 4 at City Gallery East, 675 Ponce de Leon Ave. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. 404-817-6815.

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