In the Abstract

An abstract painting finds its meaning, its creative thrust, in the eye of the observer. Art Bernstein, Sue Contessa, Peter Galasso and Aida Izadpanah, the four artists featured in Gallery North’s “In the Abstract,” have created abstract art that fully manifests the notion of spectatorship and “passive participation.” The works of speak to the journey as much as to the result. They ruminate rather than dictate, leaving plenty of space for the viewer to step into the colors, lines, gestures and forms that intertwine to create that ever elusive meta-reality–mood.

But with so little to latch on to as concrete, what makes abstract art work? It’s an intriguing, difficult question to answer.

“One of the responsibilities of an artist is to render a thought, a feeling, a place, an object, or a combination in an aesthetically pleasing manner,” said Judith Levy, directory at Gallery North. “While some abstract art might look completely thoughtless and impulsive, the best works are done with deliberation, a clear, powerful feeling within the artist’s mind.”

But each artist’s deliberations are unique and hidden by their personalities, which obscures their intentions and leaves room for ambiguity.

Take Peter Galasso’s Unimagined (2016, acrylic on canvas), a large canvas awash in deep oceanic color and loose form that invites interpretation. Rich, thick navy blues form the depth of field as the scrapes; pulls, twists and turns of yellow and red create traces of existential ephemera. The sense of muted whimsy in the scraping and stroking, as well as the tendency to work sparingly and modestly, evokes Stan Brodsky, under whom Galasso studied at The Art League of Long Island. Like Brodsky, Galasso seems to be creating mood, inviting memory and expressing that mysterious space between the two.

Grid, 12" x 10" graphite on paper

Grid, 12″ x 10″ graphite on paper

“(My work) offers a visualization of energy, motion and emotion,” said Galasso. “(It) encourages the viewer to trace his or her movements and perhaps recognize in the work some inner truths which may be common to us all.”

Sue Contessa also aims to drill deep into the subconscious, but she does it differently. In contrast to the sweeping, windy chaos of Galasso’s more “traditional abstracts” (if there’s such a thing), Contessa is a “mark maker.” She uses consistency and repetitive motion like a mantra: slowly, steadily cracking open the head. Her “dot” works are an exercise in quiet precision which, in their minimalism, create an emotional depth and breadth all their own.

“The focus of my work is the process and ritual of repetitive mark making,” said Contessa. “[By] working this way, the act of painting becomes a form of meditation.”

“In the Abstract” marks a change for Gallery North, which typically showcases work around a specific theme or local landscapes. The exhibit is the first to feature exclusively abstract art for the Setauket gallery. It’s a subtle invite to the community to come for a more contemplative, and possible more introspective, viewing experience.

“Sometimes the meaning of the work takes some time to make itself known,” Levy said. “Not only do you have to observe the work, but you have to actively engage with it; you have to respond to it with your own thoughts and emotions.”

“In the Abstract” runs through Aug. 26 at Gallery North in Setauket.

drew moss

Drew Moss is an SAT/ACT specialist, college advisor, journalist and filmmaker. He guest lectures at Adelphi University and lives in Long Beach with his wife and children. See his work at