Not A Painting
THE HOLE | JUNE 9 – August 9, 2015
It’s a group of work united by something outside the group: painting. But we see and approach, each of the pieces in “Not A Painting” as if that’s what they are, because that’s what some of them look like. Everything is wall hung, and though most of the work might be classified as sculpture, the exhibition ultimately undermines such categorizing. By labeling these twenty works negatively—as “not-paintings”—the show tempts the viewer to see what might be painterly about them. The formal constructs of painting are evidently a concern for these twelve emerging artists, who collectively shun traditional representation in favor of more abstract compositions. Some artists seem primarily interested in substitution games—switching out paint for something more peculiar, like rhinestones or beeswax. However, the most exciting pieces are inspired by normal, everyday things such as refrigerator magnets, clothes hung out to dry, or lunch meats. These works demonstrate a susceptibility of vision, a readiness to see the concerns of painting everywhere, and to transfer these figure-ground combinations, accidental compositions, and incidental color into their work.
At some point the distinction between painting and sculpture might have been dimensionality: paintings are flat and on the wall, sculptures are 3D and on the ground. Though Bob Eikelboom’s seductive “The Quotidian Object no. 2” (2015) is not made with paint on canvas, it resembles a traditional painting largely because of its flatness. A white square, it does not protrude into the viewer’s space, nor does it create an illusion of depth. Magnetic shapes—made by the artist—are clustered on the white substrate. The fact that Eikelboom’s magnets can be arranged and rearranged as he composes the piece points to a sharp divide between figure/ground. His shapes range between familiar forms, like a simplified eye or a Rubin vase—where we simultaneously see a vase’s silhouette as two profiles—and abstract blobs that quote brush strokes or impressionistic dabs of paint. Eikelboom’s shapes recall Matisse’s cut-outs, but not his compositions. Whereas Matisse would often fill his pieces with organic forms, Eikelboom leaves swaths of the substrate clear so that we understand that “The Quotidian Object” to which the piece’s title refers is a refrigerator. In his seemingly haphazard placement of his magnets, Eikelboom’s piece also seems to draw on the tenets of Raoul De Keyser and Martin Barré’s “provisional painting.” Like De Keyser or Barré, Eikelboom does not create an aura of permanence or stasis with his work. Rather, with its blank substrate, its almost colliding forms, and its theoretically moveable pieces, Eikelboom’s work is visually satisfying without suggesting weighty permanence that traditional paint on canvas often connotes.
Similar to Eikelboom, Radamés “Juni” Figueroa uses regular objects—clothing—into his piece “Tropical Readymade” (2015). Trained as a painter and now working mostly as a sculptor, Figueroa hangs bright colored shirts, socks, and undergarments from a set of shiny, white window blinds. While windows are a familiar trope in painting, “Tropical Readymade” might be closer to sculpture than painting because of its material elements—that it gathers things from the world and assembles them into a three dimensional form. The strength of this piece lies in its compositional balance. There are two shirts in the bottom half (right and left) and only one in the top (middle), so the piece feels neither bottom nor top heavy. The clothing is draped such that the linear edges of the white form contrast with the soft contours of the clothing, so that we see different types of line, wavy and soft, straight and harsh. Whether Figueroa saw this as an arrangement of forms or modified laundry he saw hanging, the delicacy and subtlety of placement suggests a refined aesthetic sensibility.
Martha Friedman, who often works as a sculptor, also draws her inspiration from the banal. For her “Loaf” series (2009, 2010), of which three pieces are on view, Friedman cast rubber on MDF (a material similar to plywood) in the shape of bread slices. Friedman, who often makes what can easily be classified as sculpture, uses rubber as if it were paint to depict the flesh tones of a popular lunchmeat, pimento loaf (ochre, blood red, pigskin pink). She makes the meat’s dotted appearance an all-over composition that resembles a slide under a microscope. Her three slices demonstrate a keen sense of color: she exaggerates the meat’s color with a Guston-like pink punctuated by earthy browns and red spots. Where the slice of pimento loaf has holes, Friedman’s piece shows the wall behind. These holes make apparent the pieces’ three-dimensionality, albeit thin. Each work has a slightly different appearance, as if a new composition is apparent every time Friedman cuts a new meat slice from the loaf. With their fleshy color and oversized scale, the pimento slices hanging on the wall look even more unappetizing than they would on a schoolchild’s lunch tray.
Part of the joy of looking at these pieces is that they don’t fit into conventional categories. We categorize objects to understand something else about them, to find similarities, to put them in relation to other things that exist in the same category. In the Hole’s show, the gap between our expectation of how the object should be categorized and an inability to do so generates some confusion and excitement. Our need to categorize, and therefore understand something else about the work, is stymied. We must see the objects as they are: as “not-paintings,” as maybe-sculptures, and ultimately, as objects. Stuck, we find affinities between what these objects are not and what they approximate. Without the comfort of a category, we can see how individual components of ‘painting’ carry beyond the medium of paint: Eikelboom’s figure/ground contrast, Figueroa’s compositional concerns, Friedman’s careful color. And it is things in the world—our shared, banal world—that suggest these objects to the artists. In successfully presenting these works as painterly but “not-paintings,” the Hole’s show points out how the concerns of painting travel to us: from the world around us, to the category of painting, and to the artists’ “not-paintings.”
KATE LIEBMAN is a painter who works in Brooklyn.