Why is it easy to conceptualize a physical sensation but incredibly challenging to feel a concept? As an example consider movement, or more specifically, moving along in a vehicle, a car let’s say. There is the blur of the landscape registered by the eyes, the soft sound of a motor’s hum, perhaps—if the windows are down—the feeling of air blowing around. All of that takes no effort to imagine, but try and feel it. It’s impossible. The only way to stimulate the sensation of movement, it seems, is to move. David Deutsch’s new work slips a loophole into this seemingly one-way street. His paintings are an apotheosis of movement that conjures thoughts of intensity, velocity, and celerity. Standing stock still contemplating the speed in and of his pictures, you may feel your resting heart rate quicken. That bounding pulse is an emotional response, generated by the mind, giving the body a feeling it can register.

David Deutsch, “Nothing Real,” 2011. Acrylic on linen. 36˝ × 48˝. Image Bill Orcutt. Southfirst, Brooklyn NY.
David Deutsch, “Nothing Real,” 2011. Acrylic on linen. 36˝ × 48˝. Image Bill Orcutt. Southfirst, Brooklyn NY.

The car is a central motif in Nothing Real, Deutsch’s new series of paintings, which are not actually paintings. It’s easy to be mistaken. They look like playful expressionistic exercises of acrylic paint loosely and liberally applied to canvas; in actuality, they are monoprints. The process is as peculiar as the finished product. Deutsch paints on sheets of plastic, which he then transfers onto stretched canvases. The folds and creases remain visible, adding to the texture of runny paint, goopy mixtures, and scratched out delineations. All of this tactile accretion, however, sits more or less flatly beneath the thin translucent skin of plastic.

Deutsch, a native of Los Angeles who is known primarily as a landscape painter, essentially obliterates the landscapes in this sextet of prints on canvas. Of the series, two depict suburban scenes of arrival or departure, while the remaining four portray a boxy station wagon in various states of passage. The figures that populate the work are not gender specific, despite the fact that they are mostly bare-chested. They appear less like particular people than vague familiarities glimpsed from the window of something moving fast.

For some reason, when representational painters shift to a heavily gestural style they tend to flatten space in their pictures. This may simply be a consequence of the traditional expressionist ambition to convey an idea or emotional experience rather than portray physical reality. In any case, Deutsch follows suit, offering just enough pictorial information for us to recognize a car, person, or house, amidst a field of swirling, spinning, slashing brush work. Even the title of the exhibition suggests that we should not look for reality in this work. Nothing here is real; it may all be imagined, it may all be emotion.

The title piece,“Nothing Real,” is exemplary of the frantic energy coursing through this exhibition. A crudely marked out car is centrally situated in a melee of dark browns, blacks, blues, and grays. The driver—a few fleshy strokes—is a hunched, faceless figure. The scene looks like someone doing donuts at top speed in massive patches of mud in the middle of the night. The picture is deliberately messy—a universal quality in these pieces—but that messiness somehow feels liberating. In comparison to the calculating approach and sangfroid presence of Deutsch’s earlier work, this seems like a Dionysian outburst, an orgy of painterly pleasure.

Still, it’s important to remember that these are prints. They may encourage associations of rambunctiousness and playful mayhem, but printmaking is a process that demands precision. For all the freewheeling energy and speed latent in Deutsch’s imagery and brushwork, these pieces are the result of careful compression. Each print is the site of both frenzied motion and concentrated stillness, which is a lot like riding in a car. You sit, unmoving, and zip along in miles per hour.


Charles Schultz


JUNE 2011

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