Margaret Neumann at Rule Gallery

Margaret Neumann is a painter. Some might classify her as a Neo-expressionist, a la Philip Guston, but rather, her paintings are existentialist, merging the meaning of life with the purpose of paint. She works in oil on canvas, layering pigment in a messy manner, using fingers as well as brushes, her palette intense with blacks and reds. The garish yellows of previous works are toned down in her current show, As I Once Knew It, at Rule Gallery. Even the reds seem deeper, less vibrant. It’s a powerful show that slowly amplifies, within the viewer, the mystery of the paintings. The awkwardness, discomfort and uneasiness initially perceived melt into something disjointedly familiar, deep. Somewhat like the experience of Robin Rule’s new digs in RiNO. Different, yet familiar.

Neumann’s paintings play with space–often featuring a space within a space. Objects hover in impastoed areas of paint –  thick, lush surfaces that are balanced between control and chaos. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that her process begins with paint and that the image grows out of the paint. Neumann allows the process  of painting to take her on a journey, the destination inner space. That pliable space between sleep and awake – not a physical reality as much as a hovering between states.

Neumann , who earned her MFA at the University of Colorado in Boulder, is very much a Denver scene-maker: She was a founder of Spark Gallery co-op, a member of Pirate, co-editor for the Colorado Art Newspaper way back in 1983, and an original mentor artist at RedLine where she has shared a studio with Clark Richert. She also spent years as a practicing psychotherapist. She recently discussed her therapy style with Erik Isaac and Michael Keen on the Untitled Art Show, a Denver podcast. “I didn’t lead, I followed,” she said, comparing her work as a therapist to her work as an artist in which “trust” whether of the paint or the patient is her metier. The last two years she has been able to focus full-time on her painting. And it shows.

Neumann is experiential. Things come from things. The painting also are things –  and she does embrace their thingness, as Guston did when he broke from AbEx. But they are not to be explained, they are to be experienced. To float into the space of these paintings and find yourself pushed off balance, you just can’t quite touch why, but the sensation pulses through.

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