Pierogi 2000, May 23 – June 23, 2008
Infinitely Small Disasters, Darina Karpov’s second show with Pierogi, expands on the technical ambition and scale of her last exhibition there just 16 months ago. Occupying both of Pierogi’s spaces (normally reserved for two separate artists), the show contains a total of 20 works—16 drawings and four large paintings on panel. Given their density and detail, it’s humbling to consider how much work Ms. Karpov has produced in such a short timeframe, but she has managed to avoid sacrificing neither touch nor delicacy on the altar of abundance.
The four large-scale paintings occupying Pierogi’s front room initially read as washy fields executed in a limited palette of cool pastels. But, like nature itself, which Karpov relies on heavily for imagery, her paintings vary wildly from near to far; macro/micro and global/local ambiguities emerge as the viewer reels into and out of the work. From across the room paintings such as “Murmur” (2008) seem homogenous and thin; approach them, however, and they come to life. To be enveloped by Karpov’s larger paintings is like progressing through the magnification levels of God’s telescope on Judgment Day: from the smoothness of the celestial ether to the infinite variations of the terrestrial multitude in a few moments. The pale violet atmosphere, with its occasional blemishes, turns upon closer inspection into a churning composition of rogue tree branches, intestinal tubes and gauzy membranes, simultaneously snaking around each other and hurtling through space. And from very close, Karpov’s handling of material steals the spotlight from the imagery itself. The astonishing detail of her own dexterous moves and the alluvial flows and rings of the water-based media induce voluntary myopia, losing the forest of her compositions for the trees of her marks. Veils of translucent pigment build upon one another to jewel-like effect. Each silky wash, manipulated dribble and sinuous stroke adds information without concealing the layer below, creating a filigree of organic debris that lures the eye deeper and deeper into the work until the big picture is lost completely.
Karpov’s paintings are wonderfully rich universes that lack a definitive center of gravity. They require a framework that the magical sediment and hurtling viscera can cling to. Paintings such as “Dissipation” and especially “Adrift” work better from four inches than four yards precisely because they’re missing the very compositional anchor that can be found by the dozen if you move in close enough. Like Pollock’s drip paintings, Karpov’s work forces the viewer either to project outward, or, as is more likely in Karpov’s case, venture deeper inside in order to secure a composition in the minutiae.
If anyone is wondering what happened to gravity in Karpov’s pictorial universe, it can be found in her drawings. With the same lightness of touch, the graphite and acrylic works on paper tend to pare down the excesses in her paintings, isolating and framing the events that are buried in their visual noise. The acrylic on panel, “Laid Traps” (2007), while only 13 × 20 inches, commands presence through the singularity of its pictorial event and the strangeness of the object it portrays. Though it looks like the exploding digestive track of a creature from B-horror movie, Karpov makes it look good and, somehow, crucial. The wooly cluster of tubes and tendrils in the dead center of a rich sepia background seems caught in motion, like an event freeze-framed at a decisive moment. Similarly, her graphite drawings prefer containment to the sprawling inclusiveness of her paintings, though they tend to flirt with the edge of the page more than “Laid Traps” did. One of the most compelling examples is “Loophole” (2008), a 41 × 51 inch graphite and colored pencil drawing that introduces a more architectural feel to her work—a jarring De Kooning-esque composition with a twisting central structure and figure/ground confusion that severely disrupts the pictorial space. The complex structure supplies a scaffolding on which Karpov interlocks a checkerboard of velvety black graphite patches that, despite describing the perimeters of a dimensional object, compete independently as a network of flat abstract shapes.
There’s so much to Karpov’s art that it’s hard to digest it all at once. Infinitely Small Disasters is probably two or three shows’ worth of material. Because of her work’s undeniable complexity, there are many who won’t resist the urge to lump Karpov with other obsessive 2d practitioners—a trope with which Pierogi has become somewhat associated. However, Karpov favors cerebral resolution over improvisational repetition. Her only real problem may be that she is so creatively adept and technically facile that she puts more in than necessary, and all things considered, there are worse problems to have—I know dozens of artists who would sacrifice their health and wealth just to be accused of being over-productive.