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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 13-JAN 14

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DEC 13-JAN 14 Issue
ArtSeen

PETER YOUNG

Peter Young deals often in infinities, symmetries, and repeating and non-repeating patterns; strategies that are patently abstract, but at the same time manage to harness an intensely human connection to the spiritual. His series of precise yet self-consciously hand fabricated paintings from the early ’80s, exhibited at Algus Greenspon, are shimmering windows into oblivion.

Perhaps the connection lies in the fact that these forms are associated, especially in Young’s case, with traditional modes of weaving and basket making that the artist saw while in Oaxaca, Mexico. There is also a decidedly ’80s appeal to these paintings that differentiates them from Young’s blot, dot, or hard-edged works—the arrival of the digital aesthetic seems to be lurking somewhere in the painting process. Subtract the creepy feel of the miasma of static that transfixed Drew Barrymore in Poltergeist, and you get the feeling of technology gone awry; some kind of peyote-addled Atari wonderland or endless iterations of Lego.

On View
Algus Greenspon
November 2 – December 21, 2013
New York
The lyrical abstraction group of painters that Young associated with in the late ’60s and ’70s: Ron Davis, Dan Christensen, Ronnie Landfield, and Ken Showell, among others, focused on exuberant use of color and novel techniques of expression—staining, spraying, pointillism, and squeegeeing. Some, like Landfield and Christensen, followed more painterly trajectories, while Ron Davis has embraced digitally-made imagery. Young fluctuates in the methodology he uses to get his point across. The series of white, De Kooning/Gorky-esque canvases he presented last year in the same space couldn’t be farther from these mathematical exercises in color counterpoint.

But on closer inspection, the precision falls away. The initial work in the exhibition, “#5-1977” (1977), is a simple square refrain, referencing Mexican weaving. It embraces a minimalist repetition, but the colors vary in weight and opacity, the edges of each mosaic square of paint are uneven and breathe with a freedom at which the overall format of the piece does not hint. It’s a relief. The following series of nine paintings, all large and rectangular, are riffs on this woven theme. But through oscillations in color and pattern they develop much more vibrant personalities—sort of a Well Tempered Clavier based on a Tibetan Tanka format.

The paintings with their thousands of carefully painted patches must have been mind-numbing to create, and from canvas to canvas one can see Young refining certain techniques and generating a vocabulary of patterns that guides the eye and affects the heart. Symmetry is respected, but is not a hard and fast rule. Imaginary forms appear: “26-1983” (1983) seems to present a series of deities in formation, like the Hindu Pantheon, while “23-1982” (1982) is perhaps referencing the brickwork of Chichen Itza or Tikal.

These works are more direct and insistent than a tapestry or basket pattern. It is probably a combination of the severity of the rectangular format, the smooth coldness of the paint versus the warmth of wool or straw, and the gallery setting. But the DNA-like repetition/variation of the colors is not random or accidental. These seductive passages of color are overwhelming and indecipherable, while remaining modest enough in their scale and fabrication to be entirely human at the same time.

71 Morton Street // NY, NY 10014

Contributor

William Corwin

is a sculptor and journalist from New York. He has exhibited at The Clocktower, LaMama and Geary galleries in New York, as well as galleries in London, Hamburg, Beijing and Taipei. He has written regularly for The Brooklyn Rail, Artpapers, Bomb, Artcritical, Raintaxi and Canvas and formerly for Frieze. Most recently he curated and wrote the catalog for Postwar Women at The Art Students League in New York, an exhibition of the school’s alumnae active between 1945-65, and 9th Street Club, and exhibition of Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Mercedes Matter, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner and Elaine Dekooning at Gazelli Art House in Mayfair. He is the editor of Formalism; Collected Essays of Saul Ostrow, to be published in 2020, and he will participate in the exhibition Anchor/Roots at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at Snug Harbor Cultural Center in 2021.

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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 13-JAN 14

All Issues