Anna Kustera March 8 – April 14, 2007
The eight paintings in Stephanie Campos’ solo debut at Anna Kustera are at once rough and tumble objects and elegant meditations on modernism’s romance with the sublimity of the square.
The paintings are modest in scale, with the exception of the show’s centerpiece, “Organize Freedom” (2006-2007, 96×84 inches), and painted on masonite, wood, and paper. Campos’ Suprematist palette of white, black and red, and her rejection of canvas contribute to an off-beat vision that mixes a rock & roll sensibility with a poetic appraisal of painted surfaces. The purity of Malevich’s white squares are thickened with oil, scraped with a palette knife, and outlined by ivory blacks and cadmium reds.
In “Grid Machine” (2007), black and red squares of various sizes and densities compete with lines and edges for dominance of the white space. It’s as if the painting is in process before our eyes, squares breaking down and re-forming, merging into the white, or popping out as thick as a relief. “Before, After, Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow” (2007), leans against the gallery wall; a layer of creamy white paint covers half of its surface and gathers in a little dried pool at the foot of the painting. The time-based action of painting a painting, the before and after of a critical moment in the studio, is transferred to the gallery space, an act that feels more like a heartfelt attempt at explicating a painter’s process than a subversive gag.
It is to Campos’ credit that she refuses to fall back on recycling her painter’s lexicon; instead she engages with a studied experimentation within a coherent vision. Each painting included in this show is a singular testament to the formal possibilities of three colors and the impassioned manipulation of geometry. Abstraction’s twin impulse toward the sacred and profane is readily grappled with in paintings that retain the urban mysticism of the unintentional collage of a subway station wall. In “Hidden Place” (2007), red and black squares merge into shades of pink and gray, disintegrating into an unreadable map of tile-like pieces. Just as Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” is an ordered translation of the kinetic energy of mid-century New York City, Campos’ most successful works are attempts to delineate space and order from chaos. “Cross” (2007) with its red squares haphazardly arranged to describe a barely perceptible cross against a glossy black background, could be an ode to the neon pattern glimpsed at night from a high-rise window.
In “Portrait (Haunted II)” (2007), a “face” composed of white splatter-paint eyes and a red rectangle mouth emerges from a dense blackness. Like the late painting of Philip Guston, it is deceptively cartoon-like, both funny and tragic, light and heavy. Is it a quirky anomaly in an abstract painting show, or a reference to the collapsibility of abstraction and representation that occurs in all “abstract” art? In a critique of the Museum of Modern Art’s crowd-pleaser, Comic Abstraction, Peter Schjeldahl posed the question, “Has abstraction, since the sixties, fallen from grace, or been liberated from preciousness?” The paintings of this talented young artist provide an answer.
Stephanie Campos’ paintings can be seen at Abaton Garage art gallery, May 6-June 1
is an artist based in New York.