Surface Tension

August 2003

By Richard Roth

For Exhibition at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, New York

Surface Tension

Stephen Pentak’s new work reveals a poetic sensibility coupled with an authoritative restraint that is available only to those who have painted long and thought deeply about art, life, and their connectedness. While these paintings may appear effortless, they are in fact, the result of arduous investigation and passionate commitment.

Pentak melds so many interests in this work and does it so artfully that the uninitiated might mistake these works for landscape paintings. Pentak’s formative years as a painter were concerned with Systemic Abstraction, in which systems of interval and paint application determined image. These concerns remain, as tree, reed and rock measure off intervals of time and space. Pentak has taken lessons from abstraction, minimalism and conceptual art and has made them central to figurative painting. Pentak’s development as a painter is not unlike that of Giorgio Morandi. The young Morandi learned much from modern abstract painting and was an important figure of the Metaphysical painting movement, but in later years he returned to a more traditional though nonetheless visionary body of work, one that is revered for its intelligence, spirituality, and humility. Pentak too has quite deliberately returned to origins. He celebrates earth, sky, and water; proclaims the power of abstract shape, rhythm, and color interval; and revels in the elemental notion of paint as paint.

Most importantly, these paintings speak of that which exists below the surface. It is dark beneath the surface of the river, a rainbow trout rises, something flashes, a leaf floats down to the murky bottom. An entire universe exists below – an iridescent cloud of tiny eggs drifts by, a frog’s leg dangles from a turtle’s mouth. Below the surface of the painting there also exists a universe. Below the surface lives the soul of painting. Pentak knows that art must transcend materiality. As Albers has said “Art is not an object, it is an experience.” Concerned with the relationship between paint, form, and image, Pentak makes landscape paintings that are full of contemporary complexities – rich, deep, and beautiful – Zen koans with surface tension.

Natural Talent

Painter’s distinctive, minimalist techniques create landscapes that evoke peacefulness

Sunday, April 22, 2012

By Melissa Starker


Natural Talent

Painter’s distinctive, minimalist techniques create landscapes that evoke peacefulness.

In a statement for the new exhibition “Persistent Image” at Keny Galleries, painter Stephen Pentak discusses artists such as Josef Albers and Roman Opalka, who each devoted years to series focused on one subject.

“These painters had differing reasons for their persistence, but, in each case, something happens that would not have, were the series shorter,” Pentak writes.

Where as Opalka sought to fill canvases with a count of every number through infinity, and Albers explored the visual possibilities within the shape of a square, Pentak has lent to natural landscapes a similar devotion to subject and purpose.

Through the years, Pentak has honed his distinctive technique for mark making and experimenting with light and composition, aiming for “the balance between representation and invention.”

Although his process continues to evolve, his latest works exude a Zen-like calm and proficiency. The paintings put one in a peaceful mindset — the best vantage for considering the nuances of image, paint application and texture.

His approach is rigorously consistent. Starting with a base layer of golden yellow, Pentak builds densely forested landscapes by dragging palette knives and large brushes across a wood- panel surface. He digs down to the yellow base to form a hard horizon between land and the still, reflective bodies of water that take up much of his compositions. The backgrounds are panoramic, while the foregrounds are dotted by sparse collections of trees — often birches, with their white bark formed by the delicate lines of individual bristles.

His overall aesthetic is clean and minimal but also light and gestural, as seen in the way daintily daubed leaves hover around the foreground trees without the benefit of being attached by branches. The choice to add elements in close proximity against a distant horizon helps to bridge whatever psychic distance might be created by the austere nature of his style.

One is also drawn by the vivid, subtly blended coloring and simple, elegant beauty found in each piece.

The works I.VII and I.XI focus on the “magic hour” just before sunset, resulting in a sky washed by warm, seductive yellows and pinks. In II.IV, the colors of a fall sunset work into the trunks of the trees in the foreground.

With the new paintings, Pentak also expands on his textural experiments with an exertive reduction process that manifests most strongly around the edges of the panels. In these instances, the base yellow rises up through abraded layers of other hues, encroaching on the landscape compositions and further defining the line between the inventions of the artist and the natural world that inspired them.

Stephen Pentak: Persistent Image at Bonfoey

Fall, 2012

By Dana Oldfather

For CAN Journal

Stephen Pentak: Persistent Image at Bonfoey

The Bonfoey Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings, Stephen Pentak: Persistent Image. Pentak’s oil paintings on panel and paper will be on view in our street level gallery from October 12 through November 10, 2012. We cordially invite you to join us for an opening reception with the artist, Friday, October 12, from 5–8 pm at the gallery.

Pentak’s serene landscapes radiate an inner light. Surfaces are built up of many thin layers of oil paint, pulled and crosshatched, one over another. Brighter under-layers gleam through shadowy upper layers, acting as the sun on the horizon, gliding over the edges of trees, lakes and mountains, on its way to the other side of the earth. We feel a slight isorientation; is it dusk? Is it dawn? There is something familiar yet dreamlike about these scenes. This questioning arises through the blurred effect of his technique and the ambiguity of the places he imagines.

Pentak’s paintings are based on his maquettes; drawings inspired by nature but drafted with a conscious mind to the abstract. He is informed by his surroundings but holds fast to his freedom to create and invent space. The paintings have changed subtly over Pentak’s expansive career as he determinedly works in an extended series. This persistent image is a means to discovery; to exploring light and mastering the balance between representation and invention.

Stephen Pentak has a BA from Union College in Schenectady, NY, and a MFA from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA. Currently, Pentak is Professor Emeritus at Ohio State University. He has been involved in numerous solo and group shows across the country and has exhibited in Canada and Israel. Pentak is also represented by galleries across the country, including Kathryn Markel Fine Arts in New York City, Susan Street Fine Art in San Francisco, and Costello Childs Contemporary in Scottsdale. A four-time Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship Award Winner, he has also received various Arts and Research Grants from Ohio State University.

For more information about Stephen Pentak – Persistent Image, or other upcoming exhibitions, please contact The Bonfoey Gallery, 216.621.0178, or visit the company website at

Mixed mediums

Works of painter, sculptor pair naturally

Sunday, December 4, 2016

By Peter Tonguette