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ArtNews Magazine Review

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Review in ArtNews Magazine May, 2009 from Surface Matters exhibition at Thomas McCormick Gallery, Chicago: Darrell Roberts latter-day AbEx oil paintings, gathered in the solo show "Surface Matters", are inspired by the architecture and light of the city where he has lived since attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. These heavily textured pieces are all about process: paint is applied then scraped off, more pigment is laid on and then poked and prodded as strata accumulate. Although most were small in scale, less than a foot to a side, the 17 paintings conveyed both heft and a sense of history in their variegated patinas.

There is a calculated messiness to Roberts's endeavor. From the edges of Chicago Neighborhood Series A (2007) hang globs of paint, looking precarious but not careless. Horizontals and verticals crisscross most surfaces, but the lines break and peter out and never quite form a grid.

Roberts expresses an unabashed admiration for the Actionists, and some of the works, adorned with elegant shadow-box frames clearly recalling the midcentury style, appear to emulate rather than update the movement.

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But one painting stood out. Starry Night Chicago, Reflections on the Harbor (2008), one of the largest pieces at 20 inches square, was the only monochromatic painting. By limiting himself to shades of glistening blue, Roberts drew attention to his vigorous brushstrokes. In a dramatic navy curve, one could almost see a sail bobbing on a lake. -Ruth Lopez