Richard Bosman and Peter Acheson
Elizabeth Harris Gallery
January 5–Februrary 3, 2007
In an article for New Scientist magazine in October of 2006, John Orrock, a biologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California, was quoted, “The sad truth is, once the humans get out of the picture, the outlook starts to get a lot better.” The same could be said for Richard Bosman’s latest body of work.
In the six paintings constituting his new exhibition, Rough Terrain, Bosman presents us with various “man confronting nature” scenarios. The majority of the work is medium-large, between 60 and 100 inches, and is composed of Bosman’s masterfully casual, wet-on-wet brushwork. He’s one of those painters who can make a series of loose squiggles look like dense foliage, or a dash of light blue oil paint look like car tracks in the snow. What in the past were images of pulp Americana—hunting lodges, Civil War battlefields, crime scenes—have now been replaced with images of pulp nature—a cavern, an icy cliff face, a frozen lake—that are so picturesque and generic that they wouldn’t be out of place in an action movie or a PBS nature program. In Ice Climber, Bosman’s unfussy brushwork undulates between representation and abstraction. The ice and snow clinging to the face of a rock cliff is rendered in light blues, whites and browns that hypnotically play off each other, until you notice an annoying little man in a red jacket climbing the ice cliff in the upper left corner.
Once you discover this annoying little man you realize that his annoying little head pops up in every painting in the exhibition. In Ascent, a beautifully realized image of a deep, dark cavern, seen from above, with two long ropes dangling into the abyss, there he is again, clinging to one of the ropes and ruining what would otherwise be a thoroughly enjoyable painting. By sticking these characters into his canvases, Bosman shuts down any manifold readings his images could conjure, and instead turns his truly accomplished paint handling into bad metaphors.
Elizabeth Harris Gallery
January 5–February 3, 2007
Tossed-off, unfocused, inconsistent and shoddy—not exactly the makings of a good exhibition, but exactly what Peter Acheson’s paintings have to offer. They’re a striking and refreshingly strange contrast to the slick, overproduced and ostentatious Chelsea commodities we’re so accustomed to. Wandering through this exhibition was like listening to old bootleg records, those intimate albums composed of weird material, outtakes, mistakes, and occasionally a beautifully odd track that, although the fidelity is for shit, you can’t get enough of.
There are allegiances here to painters like Forrest Bess and Myron Stout, especially in the works’ diminutive, devotional scale, as well as the unhesitatingly direct brushwork. But these paintings feel much more from the heart and less iconic. There’s a laidback quality to Acheson’s paintings and to their overt references to the things he loves—nature, Tarkovsky, the COBRA painters, mushrooms. There are not so obvious references as well, like arcane markings on the cusp of recognition. At times things drift into the truly confounding, like the painting titled Daughter done on burlap, or a circular canvas called Calendar, which seem uncomfortably arty. But there are others, like In Memory of Al Taylor and Lights on the Parkway, that occupy that subtle and mysterious area where vision and memory coalesce, conjuring old legends and contemporary myths. The feeling is that these images are truly found, not through a heroic struggle, but through quiet backwoods engagements leading to small personal meditations.
Although the aesthetic ups and downs of these works can be extreme, it is exactly their wild, mercurial character that keeps them lingering in my thoughts. Through his often simultaneous combinations of the ridiculous and the sublime, Acheson avoids pigeonholing himself. These moves can translate as arbitrarily tangential. They can also read as an honest process, sometimes painfully so, in which failure can and does happen. They set up an unassuming practice that’s more virtue than flaw, because even when failure is present it only lends itself to the stunning, often magical visions filling this ether.