Richmond Burtonby Rachel Youens
CHEIM & READ | APRIL 25 - JUNE 30, 2001
Impressive in scale and color, Richmond Burton’s over-the-top group of abstract paintings, I Am, is a series intended to embody “an erotics of artmaking.” But while an aesthetics of sensuality is their by-line, they are more persuasive as spectacular parodies of the passionate self. The problem is not so much in the paintings, but in the expectation that arises from the critical pedestal on which they rest; one begins to discern a disparity between these works, which excel as mark-making, and the aesthetic political tool they apparently stand for. Richmond Burton’s contradictory project walks a tightrope between a modernist rhetoric of radical sexual revolution and a New Age catharsis: one which strips the dualities of resistance and penetration, even as the work has been stripped of the hand. These works are, in effect, the productions of a robotic self.
As visual feasts, each work is filled to the brim with molecular teardrops and boomeranging arabesques that stream into space and surround the occasional and uplifted darkened orb. Confidently tasteless, all is stardust, and Burton waffles the grid knowingly: floating shapes upon a rolling ground. Gestural at first glance, Burton’s familiar vocabulary of disks and dancing decor actually signals a deeper separation of hand from heart and mind from body. They are too noisy, too jittery, too self-consciously prolonged. Their heroic scale heightens this alienation from the heat of touch, and the force and tenderness of sublimated sexuality. They are stylish, and their truer interest in 60s wallpaper and psychedelia is Warholian as it tickles the audience, like Mallarme’s tickling of Harlequin until he dies.
The success of the I Am series is in its perfect alignment with the Society of the Spectacle. The non-hierarchical structures that Burton appropriates from 50s abstractionists trope, the idea of utopia, tilting it toward a clearly disingenuous thought: that the next sexual revolution will dissolve the distinctions between sexual categories. These works instead reflect our societal drive toward sexy consumerism.
Rachel Youens is a painter, writer, and teacher who lives in Brooklyn.