Painting Advanced

EDWARD THORPE GALLERY| MARCH 9 – APRIL 20, 2013

Painting Advanced, a group show at Edward Thorp Gallery, gathers together a number of abstract painters under the always-tricky premise of envelope pushing. “The artists,” we’re told, “are not confined to the language of painting as being a narrow set of conventions.” It’s unclear whether the language of liberation is currently pertinent—what pressing set of conventions does painting need to be freed from? “The energies that painting still possesses” are mentioned, alluding to the possible worry that people don’t care about painting anymore. Regardless of qualms over painting’s contemporary state, Painting Advanced is an energetic, engrossing show.

Andrew Spence, "Red Pink White 3," 2011. Oil on canvas. 22 × 16". Courtesy of Edward Thorp Gallery, New York.

The exhibit is strongest when exploring possibilities of spatiality and perceptions of depth, qualities well delved into by Andrea Belag. While previous pieces often used watercolor-esque rinses of color (see the blown-out, decaying “Red Canyon”from 1996), here Belag paints thin and lengthy strokes that fuse together in broad swashes. There’s something wonderfully simple and, for lack of a more poetic term, streaky about the works. “Big Blue”(2012) relies on the brushstrokes’ contrasting directions. Reminiscent of a flag slipping about a pole, stiff lines on the canvas’s left edge move vertically while a curling wave runs from side to side. Bookended on top and bottom by blue and pink hues, a red patch sits in the center. Belag manages to suggest moments of textural calm lying beneath her busy brushwork, and the outcome is like viewing an expanse of pure color through a streaked windowpane.

Perpendicular from Belag are Andrew Spence’s angular, minimal paintings. Like Belag, there’s a sense of two-dimensional planes being layered, but while Belag has a messy adventurousness, Spence prefers a neatly crisp aesthetic. His layers are divided by color, shades of grayish pink sandwiched between white backgrounds and deep red foregrounds. Of course, Spence’s abstracted figures give no real point of reference, and what’s at the forefront and what’s lingering in the back can appear to switch. Spence cites his ready pleasure in geometric symmetry as inspired by minimalist aesthetics in the modern designs of all sorts of objects. The standout “Red Black” (2012) matches the rounded bumps and rectangular structure of a Lego brick. It’s an outlier among Spence’s others. The red-bordered black rectangle breaks his color code, and offers an amusing contemplation of that particular toy’s calculated design.

Thorp places Rachel Malin and Gary Stephan toward the front of the gallery. It’s another good pairing, as the two’s kinetically-minded work shares a tendency toward rhythmic array. Malin’s “Titled 40” (2013) looks like melting gray-blue plastic, slumping in arcs emphasized by shadowy borders. “Titled 6040” (2012) tiers patterns upon patterns, overlaying opaque black triangles on top of faint pink and gray designs (there is a certain color palette that has infiltrated the show, it seems). Stephan’s diagrammatic paintings interlace vibrant gold strips, conjuring a plane of compacted weaves and meshes. They feel as if flat-packed, waiting to spring forth. Stephan has the gift of being able to suggest surprising complexity with a few choice elements, winding a single strip of blue through the gold or dotting the landscape with rogue swathes of black.

The most outwardly experimental moment of Painting Advanced comes with Jim Lee’s work, which boldly toes the line between painting and sculpture. Lee obviously enjoys his work flitting between the two mediums and the resulting optical illusions. “Untitled (Alien Lane)” (2009 – 2013) is an asphalt-colored half circle, bordered on the left by an enticing shadow. Upon close inspection, one realizes “Untitled” actually bulges forward slightly; the extended back of the piece creates a shadow effect. Likewise, “Untitled (Departed Blue Relief)”(2013) messes about with perspective. From far away it looks like a slate-colored surface, interrupted by a meandering line at its bottom. Approaching the painting one realizes it’s actually more of a sculptural relief, comprised of stacked sheets of alumalite, a corrugated plastic. The painted line is actually the mark of an incision, as Lee has cut away the top two layers. “Untitled” calls forth Matta-Clark, though the shift in scale between Matta-Clark’s eroding environment and Lee’s easily housed objects makes the latter’s work feel a bit unambitious at times. But such a shortcoming only serves to better highlight the other, more “painterly” artists in Painting Advanced, which succeeds in showing painting’s incredible vitality, even while remaining within the realm of narrow conventions.




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