On ViewBravinlee Programs
May 2 – June 7, 2014
Clint Jukkala’s new paintings call to mind René Magritte’s “False Mirror” (1928): a close-up look into an eye that opens out into clouds and sky. Jukkala’s circular shapes, outlined in bright colors, also become both eyes and windows, and pose similar perceptual conundrums. But where Magritte relied on conventional techniques of illustration, Jukkala builds his pictures out of abstract elements of shape, color, and texture. His techniques are basic—wavy lines suggest water, thinly applied washes suggest sky, and a horizon line serves as a primitive indicator of space. Everywhere, paired circles suggest faces, probably our most basic experience of human recognition.
If simply made and modest in scale, Jukkala’s 14 canvases at BravinLee programs are rich in thought-provoking associations. In earlier works, Jukkala has drawn on postmodern abstractionists like Peter Halley, with his cells and conduits that allude to systems of corporate control, and extended his representational agenda, fragmenting rectilinear shapes into pixelated grids with jazzy patterns that might be robotic figures or electronic graphics. Now, though, as if surmounted by goggles, or a Google Glass, these generative forms have assumed self-awareness, and a more active role in seeing and being seen. Jukkala’s images engage the viewer frontally and function both as independent entities and as “Useful Fictions” (the title of one work), by means of which we can step outside the normal window of observation imposed by our bodies.
“Reality Tunnel” (2014) represents a situation of confinement, with eyes connected in self-enclosed communication, like Halley’s cells, indifferent to the vista of sky and sea beyond. That vista, a primitive sublime, reappears elsewhere in the paired ovals of “Selective Attention” (2014) and “Imprint” (2013), where they assume the aspect of night and day. “Sun globe” (2014), which unites sky and sea in a single, lens-like orb, recalls both Magritte’s mirror and earlier American evocations of the sublime, like Arthur Dove’s solar discs or Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Light Coming on the Plains” (1917). Are we inside or outside the “Tunnel”? Jukkala adds a postmodern twist to Magritte’s enigmatic image, suggesting that as we look through an eye and into the world, we may be seeing only art.
With scruffy brushstrokes suggesting bristles of hair, Jukkala’s paired ovals become rudimentary faces. But nothing is as simple as it seems. The sunshades that partly occlude the orbs of “Seeing thinking” (2014) take Jukkala’s looking at looking to a different level. Deployed across his makeshift, undifferentiated images as though to bring the roughly painted surfaces into sharper focus, these scrims seem informed by the color studies of Josef Albers, who investigated basic conditions of visibility by juxtaposing carefully calibrated fields of color. Closely coordinated boundaries can function as literal depictions of transparency, as in the water of “Please to Meet Me” (2013), but they also open up higher levels of critical reflection. The enlarged shades of “Elevation” (2013) create ambiguous relations of figure and ground, dissolving the entire field into a closely cropped yellow space, while the broken circles of “in betweens” (2014), linking up across an invisible boundary, actually resemble diagrams drawn from the realm of perceptual psychology, where studies of virtual presence test the limits of vision.
Suspended between the sublime, or sublimated, and the visceral, Jukkala playfully combines devices of high modernism with elemental images, exploring the world generated by his primitive visual logic. In “Proto psyche” (2014), a central white shape takes over, providing a field of potential, like the original tabula rasa of abstraction. Jukkala evokes an abstract sublime that lurks in the pure fields of modernist color. But by making images he also roots himself in an alternative modern tradition, one that goes back beyond Magritte to the Metaphysical Painting of De Chirico and Carrà.
This tradition, which turns the self-referential logic of abstraction into something visionary, inspired Philip Guston in his break with Abstract Expressionism. While Jukkala’s approach is less immersive than Guston’s, more geometric than gestural, his new work harks back to the stark horizons and looming heads that accompany Guston’s reflections on the everyday process of painting. In “Morning Routine” (2014), Jukkala shifts his focus from eyes to feet, in front of what appears to be water in a bathroom sink. The horizon is circumscribed by the sink’s everyday contours, but with the sun still rising, perhaps reflected in a mirror. This painting achieves the compression of Guston’s images and opens up, as they do, a fresh perspective on the sublimity of daily life. By restoring abstraction to the body, Jukkala generates new forms and surprising connections—imagination being the subject as well as the primary interest of these works.