Abstraction International style: Audrey T. Welch at Toomey Tourell

By Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

Abstraction, international style: At Toomey Tourell, the paintings of American-born Audrey Welch, who has lived on the far side of the Pacific for many years, exemplify a kind of contemporary international-style abstraction. They remind me of painters as different and distant from one another as New Yorkers Amy Sillman and Charline von Heyl, and San Franciscan John Smiddy.

The sophistication of Welch's work appears to derive equally from studio practice, life experience and observation of other contemporaries' works.

Two generations ago or more, abstract painters often sought forms and techniques that would evoke experience outside the studio as little as possible, regardless of the style in play.

Ellsworth Kelly might derive the shape of a painting or sculpture from the recollection of something observed, perhaps even something he had noted with a sketch or a snapshot. But the fabrication process would erase the trail that led from sighting to finished artwork.

Robert Ryman, nearly a decade younger than Kelly, might find sufficient content and complexity in stuff at hand in the studio or ready-made in exotic industrial materials.

Welch manifestly invests considerable energy in her constructive process. It appears to involve the layering of color and the masking or subsequent cutting of away of layers, suggesting that she foresees only to a degree a painting's final state. "Bangkok, May 19, 2010," like most of the pictures on view, has a map like quality, yet physical detail pulls the eye repeatedly back to the picture surface, making external reference seem superfluous or a mere trace of the artist's subjectivity.

Whatever personal experiences lie embedded in the paintings, they prove themselves by seeming not to need Welch or anyone else to explain them.

Audrey Tulimiero Welch: South Is at the Top: Paintings. Through Dec. 22. Toomey Tourell Fine Art, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 989-6444. http://nancytoomeyfineart.com/artists-exhibitions/audrey-tulimiero-welch/

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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