Robert Bordo: It's always raining

Alexander and Bonin, September 6 – October 11, 2008

The clearest preoccupation one takes away from the paintings by Robert Bordo at Alexander and Bonin is obliteration. He paints over an earlier layer of a painting to the point that it is visible only as a line or a few chinks of color. He does not seem to seek an elusive tension among the elements, but rather aggression, as blue erases yellow then, in its turn, is daubed by pink. His works are almost anti-expressive, a kind of minimalism through over-painting.

Robert Bordo, "Cold Shower," 2008. Oil on linen. 30 × 24 1/4". Photo: Jason Mandella. Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York.

Bordo has been identified as a painter working in the area between landscape and abstraction, but it seems more pertinent to talk about the movement between interior and exterior light and space. Sometimes it appears (and the press release suggests it as well) that he is trying to evoke the sense of a window on a rainy day—clouded by darkness, light blotted—or in the case of “Heatwave,” a blinding yellow light pinned beneath an “interior” foreground of olive green. Still other pieces, like “On the Way (to Blue)” reference the movement of light on water, and many are dotted with “raindrops,” but almost all have at least two overlapping layers of paint. His colors are just a bit grayed; deep blues, olives, and sulfur-yellows. The work often feels muffled, as if the under-layer is being silenced or talked over. The sense of suppression in the works, their not-quite quality, is their most interesting aspect.

Abstract painting seems lately to be about carving out these small arenas, as painters circle inside their oeuvres to intensify refinements, with an almost occult sense of vague figuration or meaning. Bordo’s work moves beyond a sense of interiority to the point where the original painting—the original “thought”—is all but inaccessible, and this seems at odds with the contemplative stance implied in referencing the natural world. That is, one impulse pushes inwards to the point of repression, the other aims outwards towards observation. Bordo seems trapped in an interface between a desire to make something lush and pleasurable, and a desire to cover it up.

In an adoring review in The New York Sun in September, David Cohen called Bordo a “heady hedonist” and praised his “lubricated” surfaces, as if he were painting with “butter and cream.” Bordo definitely knows his way around a tube of Old Holland, but the dueling ideas in his work, to me, create a kind of static that belies pure pleasure; his “creamy” surfaces seem hermetically sealed by their own prettiness.

ADVERTISEMENTS