Among the various debates that dominate the history of 20th century art, the opposition between figuration and abstraction has been one of the strongest and most prolonged. Is painting a window onto reality or a reality unto itself? Are the properties of painting itself (line, color and flatness) more important than its reference to the natural world? What these questions have in common is the premise that art can be conceived in absolute terms, as a pure visual system. Postmodern thought took on an entirely different approach. It replaced absolutism with relativity and showed openness and ambivalence to be more valid than fixed meaning. The paintings of both Daniel Sturgis and Nina Bossano, currently on view at a joint exhibition at The Apartment gallery, play with the notion of ambivalence and explore the fluidity with which we nowadays define and perceive abstraction. Well-known British artist Daniel Sturgis paints crisp compositions made of elegant, geometric or flower-like patterns, semi-organic but with a mechanical precision. The compositions are flat and the color is applied in an even fashion with no shades or blurred outlines. Distantly reminiscent of the hard-edge painting of the 1960s, combined with the playfulness of pop art, his paintings balance between high-art abstraction and decoration, form and content, figuration and abstraction. Each element counterbalances the other. The title of the paintings – for example «Happy Together Now» – suggest a narrative, a storyline which the abstract compositions in themselves do not readily betray. The decorative quality is offset with a certain tension, a sense of something that is visually pleasurable but slightly uneasy at the same time. One has the feeling of a precarious balance, something that can be overturned at any moment. The wonderful sense of stillness in his paintings treads a fine line. Where does abstraction end and decoration begin? How does pure abstraction merge with narrative? By using a visual vocabulary that belongs both to high modernism and design and by placing his paintings on the border between narrative and abstraction, Sturgis creates an underlying sense of instability. Based on a sound knowledge of painting’s history, his work creates new associations and challenges the ways we consume images. It shows the world of painting as vivid, fluid and filled with new possibilities. While Sturgis’s work contains a precarious sense of stillness and a razor-like precision, the paintings of American artist Nina Bossano are filled with swirling movement. On more than 2-meter-high surfaces of paper, Bossano paints flower patterns and abstract shapes that resemble molecular structures using ink, acrylic and watercolor. In «Pink Hue with Black Flowers,» the motifs create a mandala-like shape and appear as if rotating from the center and expanding out toward the foreground and edges of the composition. Some references to abstract expressionism can be detected, yet, as in Sturgis’s case, Bossano reinterprets the language of high modernist abstraction by blending psychedelic, pop-art-like references. Visually, the effect is quite different from that of Sturgis’s paintings. Yet the work of both artists uses references to the history of 20th century art to create a sophisticated play with the possibilities and nature of contemporary painting. At The Apartment (21 Voulis, 210.321.5469) through September 23.