Artists gallery show invokes Warhol, Pollock, Led Zeppelin (excerpt)
Blue Greenberg
The Herald Sun
December 10, 2006

Gibb Slife: The New Convolution; Mel Prest: Pacific Transmissions

Gibb Slife and Mel Prest have mined the late 20th century for ideas and then have pushed them to another level. Slife does large silkscreens, relying on the ideas of pop artists, especially Andy Warhol. For her part, Prest takes a long look at the minimalists and then picks up at the point they were rethinking mechanical disengagement and were returning to the hands-on approach.

Prest shares the gallery space and is also feeding off the work of the 1960s and 1970s. While Slife uses the vocabulary of pop artists, Prest takes on the language of minimalists. Her work also falls into two categories. In one, she carefully draws tiny parallel lines over the surface of her canvas, using a predominant color and changing its hues from top to bottom or side to side. Her lines are not mechanically drawn; they are rendered freehand, without the help of tape or a measuring device. She titles them with Japanese names in an attempt to connect philosophies of contemplation to her mesmerizing lines.

Minimalist art came along in the wake of the abstract expressionists, where every gesture and every daub of paint had been called heroic. As a rejection of that, the minimalists said that nothing was heroic about putting paint on a canvas; in fact, they said that the only thing about art that was important was the idea for the object; anyone could lay paint on a support.

"Think it through, write down some directions and anyone can execute it," they contended. Once this idea had been studied from every angle, one after another began to put themselves back into the making of the object. It is that point of minimalism that Prest is working through. For her it is the discipline of beginning with some repetitive form, like parallel lines, and then making each line and space a study in artistic control.

It is her other series that shows how a thinking artist can take an idea and make it hers. The gallery notes tell us that Prest's webs of color are inspired by Led Zeppelin lyrics. She begins by positioning 26 points on her surface. Then she starts the laborious process of connecting those points by painting thin streams of gouache so they crisscross the entire surface. It is impossible to follow one line from its beginning to its conclusion; it is all too dense and too complicated. Jackson Pollock's most successful landscapes with their thin lines that covered his canvases in beautiful rhythms come to mind. Prest's paintings are small and represent laborious and time-consuming work.

They are quite beautiful, and although she may never devote so much hand effort to this idea again, I cannot help but wonder what these works might look like in oils on big canvases. Serial painting, which this can be called, is all the rage again and the New York galleries are filled with it. Prest's work represents the best of these forays.