TEAM GALLERY | JANUARY 14 – FEBRUARY 28, 2016
Andrew Gbur’s new paintings are fueled by an unexpected element of illusion. From a distance, graphically rendered images appear precisely delineated, but close up those very lines begin to waver, blur, and intersect. Over the past few years, the young Pennsylvania-based artist has created a number of works that feature isolated regions of color which coalesce into discernable images, most notably variations on a leering, disquieting gaze. In a series of large, Op-inflected paintings made in 2015, Gbur continues to rework everyday imagery as an exploration of the relationship between color and line. In these paintings, recognizable icons gradually dissolve into loose, abstract gestures. This effect, together with hypnotic patterns of the works’ disjointed forms and handmade quirks, invests the compositions with a shaky sense of movement.
In a selection of works on view at Team Gallery on Grand Street, Gbur edits images culled from the film and music industry and then reconstitutes them onto canvas. At first sight, these all-over schematic depictions appear deceptively tidy. Where the artist’s previous shapes tend to hover and disperse, in this group they are reined in and more firmly rooted. The intriguing disorder that pervaded the earlier face paintings is nearly lost here and consequently, the work sometimes feels overly restrained. However, their strength lies in the perceptual subtleties that result from Gbur’s bold, fast, and jittery technique. Working freehand, the artist allows minor incidents to occur near the margins, which, depending on the viewing position alternately, read as sharp serrated forms and soft, winding outlines.
30th Century (2015) and Reverse 30th Century (2015), a set of inverted motifs, playfully update the iconic 20th Century Fox film studio logo, the same trademark that Ruscha famously took up in the early 1960s. Eliminating the older artist’s sharp cinematic perspective, Gbur’s remixed versions rely on a stiff compression of space and a wildly discordant rendering. Despite the works’ deadpan imagery, the compositions evoke the vibrating optical forces explored in Op art. In Reverse 30th Century, the flat blocky sections of color that define the oversized numbers and letters appear deliberately misaligned, as if rendered out of focus or with awkward imprecision. Neighboring shapes drift alongside one another, gently colliding at times and abruptly swerving away at others. As the eye grabs hold of the jerky margins, the interferences expand and contract, destabilizing the coherence of the image.
Gbur’s work engages in an increasingly popular form of cultural synthesis that draws on a dizzying variety of interests. The compositions in this show waver between stylistic polarities, evoking the craggy gestures of Clyfford Still and the reductive vocabulary of Warhol. Their subject matter stems from art-historical references as well as other sources, including music and graphic design. Strikingly reminiscent of an early iPod advertisement, Legs (Purple Pants) (2015) and Legs (Yellow Pants) (2015), present a truncated body with seductively contorted hips. Headless and with a coquettish pose, the pants could be intended as a symbol for sexual desire or, alternatively, severe anxiety. The language of product design is also invoked by the works’ bold contrasting colors, which are reversed in each image. While the motif looks conspicuously emoji-like, the image was in fact pulled from the suggestive cover art for Beck’s 1999 album Midnite Vultures.
Music is particularly important to Gbur and these works are perhaps his most overt attempt at incorporating its influence. His paintings are often marked by off-balance compositional elements, repeated patterns, and jarring contrasts that take on a visual rhythm. Veering toward Expressionism, the works flirt with a kind of jazz sensibility. And in doing so, they nod to abstraction’s deep relationship to music. Gbur’s interests in music must have also inspired his choice of subject matter—two of the images in the show are derived from album art.
Cool Blood (2015) is by far the most arresting work in the exhibition. Adapted from another piece of cover art—this time, the 1977 debut album of the influential punk duo Suicide; the painting depicts broad, stylized black letters on white ground. The word “cool” is scrawled above a dribbling web of densely layered marks. Gbur significantly alters the original image, substituting his own letters and intensifying the chaotic distortion of the line. Following the formula of his previous works, the starkly depicted lines and the surrounding negative space are held in an uneasy tension as the eye attempts to read the image as an abstraction. The gestures cohere and then slip away, breaking down into abstract components while simultaneously registering as an individual signifier. The results are compelling and, if anything, they should be a sign of even better work to come.
Melinda Lang is a curatorial assistant at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She has previously held curatorial positions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.