There is little stillness in the frenzied abstractions of Sonia Gechtoff
(Ukrainian American, b. 1926, d. 2018), whose paintings evoke colliding waves, gusts of wind, and falling water. As with other Abstract Expressionists of her era, Gechtoff had a reverence for the sublime and a penchant for dramatic, boundless form. Though she largely eschewed from any objectivity or symbolism, she delved deeply into a mysticism derived from non-Western sources and lineages.
Gechtoff was born in Philadelphia to Jewish émigrés from Odessa and Bessarabia. Leonid, a notable landscape painter, died when she was just 15 but left an indelible influence on his daughter. Gechtoff inherited his knowledge of Byzantine art and developed a fascination with icon painting. She utilized several recurring motifs in her compositions which resemble some of the hallmarks of icons: a heavily stylized natural world; a “reverse perspective” in which distant forms on the horizon are enlarged; frame-like borders which recall the inset rectangular ark within an icon’s wood panel; and moons and celestial shapes reminiscent of halos.
These centrifugal, circular shapes feature prominently in early works such as the palette knife oil painting, Lucia and the Wave, 1961-62 and a graphite drawing, Untitled (Round Icon Collage), 1962. She later began to look to the asymmetries and aesthetics of Japanese ukiyo-e. This is seen most overtly in Hiroshige Revisited II, 1988 and a companion painting, Streamers II, 1989, rendered in the distinctive materials she utilized the last several decades of her career – lavish brushstrokes of acrylics overlaid with lustrous, feverishly applied graphite line.
This exhibition’s title references the title of the inaugural group exhibition at the influential Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, Objects on the New Landscape Demanding of the Eye. Gechtoff was exhibited alongside Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, Frank Lobdell, and John Altoon. This 1957 show was immediately followed by Gechtoff’s first major solo show, also at Ferus Gallery.