Rubello's art tends to move forward even when it glances back. Consider this latest body of work, Color Moves. These new paintings grow from the Color Ribbons series that preceded them, in which narrow, segmented columns of color bisect wider, horizontal bands. In both series, contiguous squares and rectangles are distributed symmetrically across each canvas, and the tension, the excitement of the viewing experience is generated by the interplay between these simple shapes and the juxtaposition of the colors. But the Color Moves paintings notably depart from Color Ribbons by way of their subtle, implied dimensionality -- a quality that recalls Rubello's early explorations of perspective and space in a newly understated way.
At first glance, the paintings in both recent series present the viewer with an apparently non-perspectival plane. This self-conscious two-dimensionality is not surprising, given that after his turn in 1980 toward constructed, three-dimensional paintings, Rubello's 2-D work began to eschew the canny pretense of three-dimensionality for which it was known in the '70s. (Why continue to represent shapes in space when you can build the real thing?) But look longer at a work like Color Moves #5, relax the gaze, and the gestalt impression is one of surprising spatiality: the central column of brightly-colored rectangles seems to stand proud of the canvas, while the two flanking columns, rendered in softer hues, recede. Color Moves #7, meanwhile, presents a grid of 24 rectangles, a sort of minimalist tartan whose alternating values (now muted, now bold) can be read as an engrossing game of hide and seek as the rows and columns seem to appear and disappear behind one another, advancing toward and retreating from the viewer.
The dimensional quality of Rubello's early '70s work, typified by paintings like Room (1970) and Poetry in Space (1971) owed a great deal to the diagonal line, that progenitor of perspective by which the eye is drawn into a flat surface and tricked into the perception of three dimensions. Rubello has written that the diagonal "launches an intense visual entertainment," "dismantling the peaceful equilibrium" of a work. Hand in glove with his vivid, carefully considered colors, his elaborate and inventive use of line imbued his earlier paintings and screenprints with a lively, kinetic energy, as well as a perceptual playfulness that had much in common with optical illusion. Rarely content to merely conjure three-dimensional forms in two dimensions, Rubello used his lines to confound the viewer, to eject the roving eye as swiftly as he drew it in, in irrational schemes that defied geometric coherence even as they evoked it. (The game was always up as soon as it it began, always exposed and self-conscious.)
By contrast, the Color Moves paintings, for the most part, have no drawn lines, only border regions between color fields. Here, as Color Moves #5 and #7 make clear, it is the relationships between color values that produce the effect of dimensionality. Once again the viewer (or the "participant," to use Rubello's preferred word), is engaged by the knowing interplay between literal two-dimensionality and the semblance of three-, but the eye is not carried off by the electric current of line; instead, it is subtly shifted between and among values. The effect, in the memorable words of Gertrude Stein, is "the same, only different." In his fifth decade of working with pure color, shape, and dimension, Rubello has returned, in his restlessly forward-looking way, to his roots. Only now he gets to have it both ways; these cunning but soft-spoken color studies possess a subtle, disruptive energy at the same time they are suffused with the "peaceful equilibrium" that his earlier works resisted. The luminous Color Moves paintings are both meditative and animated, controlled and unsettled. And behind their apparent surface simplicity is a career-long investigation of perceptual complexity, distilled.