Bykert Gallery

April 1974
Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Judy Rifka's paintings dominated the show. I've left her work until last because it has some - vague but insistent - affinities with that of Gerald Horn and Joshua Neustein, to whom I shall come in a moment. Rifka's work is done on cardboard, which provides a soft, brown field for an image made out of one or two colors.

This image is the result of a procedure that begins as a way of getting from one mark to another, across the surface of the piece, and ends with the creation of a kind of envelope made out of layers of paint. the black shape, which was initiated by tiny squares and rectangles - displaced intuitively and then connected - began and ended the paining process. The white shape, introduced after the black configuration was more or less established, is literally sandwiched - painted in and then mostly painted out - by the black, and this is also how one visually experiences the work. Rifka has put her finger on a neglected but ostensive feature of painting's conventionality, which is that opticality may be as much a consequence of conventionality, which is that opticality may be as much a consequence of physical actuality as of - for example - chromatic interaction. In this, she addresses the question most crucial to painting in general at the present time: the question as to how far the - currently compromised= abstract "depth" of pictorial space can be newly considered- retrieved - through attention to the material basis of the conventions on which that experience of "depth" relies. Rifka's paintings are flatter than almost any other work that comes to mind, including that of others- Robert Ryman, for example - who are concerned with the material qualification of the painted object. At the same time they suggest a space infinitely deep, and its the scope of this evocation and accommodation of paradox - of a subjectively considered material dialectic - which leads me to say that Rifka's is the most devastatingly original formulation of painting's identity that I've encountered in some time. I need hardly add that this effect is immeasurably enhanced by her use of materials which are uncommon in painting and familiar in the everyday world.