ArtsATL > Art+Design > Gallery notes: Varied approaches to abstraction by Donald Sultan, Caio Fonseca, Bernd Haussmann

Gallery notes: Varied approaches to abstraction by Donald Sultan, Caio Fonseca, Bernd Haussmann


Bernd Haussmann‘s abstract paintings have often exhibited a sensitive preoccupation with the natural world and his personal connection to it. Although born in Germany, Haussmann draws inspiration from the environs of the north shore of Boston and rural western Maine, where he owns homes.

Bernd Haussman: Untitled ("Darwin's Coral")

Haussman has recently turned his attention to some of the most primitive and elemental organisms: the first clustered animal colonies at the bottom of the sea. He plays with delicate oceanic references to create lush aquatic environments in his new work, featured in “Darwin’s Coral” at Emily Amy Gallery through July 7.

Employing the subtle use of primarily pastel palette and an array of manipulation techniques, the artist builds layered, textured surfaces that suggest a densely saturated underwater panorama. Light plays on the textured puckerings of the paint, mimicking the veiny branches of coral that shimmer on the surface. The layers of pigment achieve a sense of depth that is soothing and sometimes entrancing.

The larger paintings are sometimes flanked by much smaller satellite works; a dialogue ensues, each informing the other with complementary color schemes or the suggestion of different plays of light. Notions of evolution also seem to inform Haussman’s creative process, lending an organic sensibility that is expressed in the mutations and color shifts from one panel to the next. 


Donald Sultan is one of the leading American contemporary still-life artists and has been shown and collected by leading galleries and museums around the world. Known for his large compositions of flowers, fruit and other objects, Sultan has garnered accolades for his modern approach to traditional still lifes, often created using unconventional industrial materials such as linoleum, tar and rubber.

Donald Sultan's "Flower Series R/B P-April 27"

The prints in his robust “Flower Series” at Alan Avery Art Company border on abstraction in their use of bold contrast and repetitive shapes. The large blossoms vie for space within the full-to-bursting prints, but Sultan’s keen spatial sensibility and technical precision establish harmony between the organic forms and the equally important negative spaces they inhabit. Massive monochromatic petals hang suspended between tar-black textured spaces, creating a push/pull that feels evenly weighted, effortless and conceptually pleasing. 

Also at Avery, Abstract Expressionist painter Caio Fonseca exhibits an exciting selection of work. From a family of artists (his father Gonzalo, a sculptor, and his brother Bruno), the Uruguayan-born Fonseca spent 15 years honing his craft in Europe and South America. He employs a reductive process to arrive at his finished works, painting in partial layers that continually accrue, overlapping previous forms, sometimes abrading the surface and, ultimately, achieving new abstractions. The curvilinear geometry of his forms, especially those of his black-and-white compositions such as “Fifth Street P11.9” and “Fifth Street C12.5,” has often been compared to piano lids, quarter notes and the bodies of cellos or violins. He is a classical pianist, after all.

In “Fifth Street C09.9,” amber and ocher streaks of oil paint provide a foil for the layering of Fonseca’s more formal off-white curvilinear abstractions. Here his work feels more mature and studied; the final mark-making he employs creates more cohesion. He corrals a stylized rigor and a lyrical sense of whimsy into equilibrium.

Caia Fonseca's "Pietrasanta C11.49"

In his more tonal works, such as the massive “Pietrasanta C06.19,” Fonseca’s heavily worked canvases play with the relationships among elemental forms in a horizontal field. The rhythms of the forms exposed on the striated, pale surface superficially resemble the notations of a musical score, but they convey an inner poetry that is beyond this facile comparison. His paintings resonate with a visual logic and understated beauty that is both deeply engaging and utterly sublime. 

The High Museum of Art will screen “Painter: Caio Fonseca,” a documentary film by Michael Gregory, in the Walter C. Hill Auditorium at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 13. Reservations required (through Alan Avery).

On our home page: Donald Sultan’s” Flower Series LF B/W Feb. 16.”

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