AT FIRST glance, Ellen Steinfeld's brassy and sharply defined acrylic landscapes can remind you of a New Wave greeting card or album cover.
These are the "hot" shapes and colors all right. They made their debut in cubism and art-deco, appearing again in neo-expressionism, but by now they've filtered down to the design mainstream, making it somewhat disconcerting to encounter them in a gallery. It's to her credit that Steinfeld manages to keep them fresh and lively.
Her assured and brilliantly colored compositions interweave triangles, zig-zags, and rectangles with more organic shapes, working out various themes or feelings. "Cave of the Heart," for example, uses stylized heart shapes intersected and complemented by other forms, with the painting providing its own, bamboo-like frame. The sculptural elements of Steinfeld's paintings are at first scarcely apparent. Various shapes step off the edge of the conventional rectangle, but are seamlessly absorbed by the overall thematic pattern.
Rather than engage in any conceptual speculation on her subjects and themes, Steinfeld instead seems to stick in celebratory gear, having fun with them. In "Winter Dreams," the snowy landscape is clearly visible, with sharply stylized suggestions of trees and a bright yellow crescent moon at the center.
Her careful balancing of such elements is orderly and visually satisfying, but probably works against the paintings in the end. They're loud, but not emotionally powerful. In fact, re-statement, not commentary, seems to be Steinfeld's sole intent.
Steinfeld's works on artist-made paper carry out the same balances, but they become softer and blurred because of the thick cotton media, absorbing and fading the colors, making shapes less distinct.
These works aren't as slick and commanding as the acrylics on wood, but they come to the same, somewhat facile, conclusions. "Space Songs" (I and II), for instance, both feature a black bottom half, with pretty, pastel shapes floating above. It seems somewhat discordant to see an artist appropriating postmodern techniques while ignoring contemporary anxieties about space technologies or the environment. It's reminiscent of how "punk" fashions filtered to the United States from Britain, divested of accompanying political concerns.
Ellen Steinfeld is a locally-based artist who has had solo shows in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, as well as at Hallwalls and Nina Freudenheim here. Her work was also included in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's Wayward Muse exhibition. Steinfeld's new work will be at Nina Freudenheim Gallery, 560 Franklin Street, through June 14.