New YorkMckenzie Fine Art
May 3 – June 9, 2013
The paintings in Don Voisine’s latest show at McKenzie Fine Art follow guidelines already established in his earlier work: separate sections of matte and semi-glossed black, arranged in various geometric compositions, are framed within blocks of color. Some of the pictures, like “Rickshaw” (2013), have illusionistic qualities, where a glossed field of black is painted over a matte one, making it seem as if the top layer floats above the one beneath it. But the figurative aspect of Voisine’s work is something of a ruse. In “Rickshaw,” the two fields declare their own flatness by being so literally placed one over the other. The glossed field covers the matte one only to announce how direct and empirical Voisine’ painting methods are. We can only see the work for what it is; we can’t see into it.
Flatness in abstraction is not valuable in and of itself. It’s simply a characteristic, and Voisine understands that clearly. His work turns away from the question of what to paint and towards the problems of how to paint at all, but it also fully recognizes the implications of that decision. A good abstract painting has to do more than simply eliminating figuration. It also has to provide a good reason for its own necessity. The difficulty, of course, is to do so through compositional means, or through the character of the painting itself. Theory and criticism are only an afterthought.
Voisine has established a strict formal vocabulary in order to provide the structure and motivation to make abstract pictures. Yet even within this tight framework, there is variation, which inevitably means that some pictures are better than others. It’s curious that, despite the seemingly redundant perimeters, the strongest works contain repeated forms. That i s especially obvious with Voisine’s diptychs, “Till” and “Tip”, both from 2013, where rectangular black blocks tilt at oblique angles against the colored bands which frame the sections of each picture. It’s no coincidence that the titles of the works are so similar to one another, with the letters “T ” and “I” both appearing twice. It's as if Voisine, in repeating a shape or letter, has time to fully think over what exactly he is doing, affording the pictures a level of clarity. In relation, the other pictures can feel rushed.
Indeed, if there is a general criticism to be leveled, it’s that Voisine may work too quickly. Fourteen of the 16 panels in the exhibition were completed in 2013, which maybe hasn't left the artist enough time to consider whether or not a work is really finished. As a result, some of the paintings seem to carry implications that have yet to be fully worked out. “Peg” (2013), a picture with nine small white squares set against a black field which is framed at top and bottom by pink rectangles, conspicuously avoids triangular forms in a way that no other painting does and there seems to be an unaccounted for departure from Voisine’s favored tendencies. It’s not an entirely resolved painting, and it may indeed be the weakest in the show, but its break from the others is a sign of potential good fortune. Voisine’s progress seems to stem from isolating certain sections of previously completed works. Perhaps looking at this one more fully will allow some clarity in terms of moving in a new direction.
Whether or not Voisine actually needs a new direction is an open question. On the one hand, he seems to have discovered a set of confines in which he can work productively; on the other, a leap into new territory may yield new insights. It’s tempting to say that the structure Voisine has established at times feels stifling, but it's impossible to know that it’s necessarily so without actually seeing what happens next. Building on his recent success won't be an easy task, but Voisine has done it before, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t again.
55 Orchard St. // NY, NY
PAC POBRIC is an art critic and assistant editor for the Platypus Review.