On ViewPaula Cooper
January 19 – February 22, 2020
This current exhibition follows a major yearlong career survey of Dan Walsh’s work at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht recently ending January 5, 2020. The iterative complexity of Walsh’s ongoing commitment to a focused, yet constantly expanding vocabulary of unit-based form and color is abundantly clear in this concise show, as it was in the Maastricht survey. Viewers familiar with Walsh’s work will no doubt recognize the strategy of built images, each part, part of a generative process extending across a painting’s surface or, a sculpture’s three dimensions—nevertheless, the deadpan permutations are not strictly programmatic, and invite the viewer to participate in an intellectual and retinal exploration of how exactly these images come to be. Typically, the engagement is like contemplating a multiplicity of tantric marks or listening to the emergent variations of serial music.
The exhibition comprises large and medium-scale paintings, a sculpture and works on paper. The three large paintings are each titled Expo I (2018), Expo II (2018), and Expo III (2019) all 96 × 96 inches. They result from related methodologies—protocols that determine the composition, number of contained shapes per vertical or horizontal line for example—though the images are very distinct from each other in each painting, and not variations on a theme. Walsh takes from Minimalism the clarity of production, and an emphasis on that space between work and viewer where an invitation to participate responsively rather than passively is a demand. The viewer needs to enter into a relationship with an individual work’s structure and color here, for the work to activate. In this sense, the paintings function like music, in a both a rhythmic and meditative way, like the mesmeric cascades of Middle Eastern music or the dance beats of Funkadelic, to name two favorites of the artist. Take Expo II, a rhythmic, mandala like screen—an optical arrangement of gray discs that shift against a close toned gray and blue ground—that appears perceptually to melt and recede, the ground becoming a fluctuating foreground.
Score (2019), 70 × 70 inches, displays the repetition of the characteristic single gesture, a brush stroke, discrete and economical in arrangements at right angles to each other, crossing over, layering, like a computer code or braille for sighted people. The coffee, brown, cream rows of gestures, each group a unit or building block, are regular and suggest the precept of a scientific principle carried through, or as the title suggests a musical notation. Record II (2019), features two illusionistic, concentric bands that echo the canvas’s square proportion and appear to braid. Still schematic, they depart from the flat frontal effect of the other paintings here. Included in the exhibition are a group of drawings, BC II – BC VI all 2019 and ink on blotting paper. Each drawing is the same size and utilizes sections of a grid to form from differently saturated squares subtle explorations of the same basic profile, the variations all occurring within this profile. Even when color is excised, Walsh’s works are never reductive—limits are freeing, and invention within the limits in no way restrictive, debilitating or pedagogic. Recalled are the friezes of Mayan temples, their weaving soft yet precise stone geometries, and the variant instructions of Sol LeWitt’s protocols.
A cube sculpture takes Walsh’s thinking into three dimensions, and adds literal light passing through substance to the light of colored, or tonally varied surface. Consisting of individual repeated cubes of cast resin, yellow, red, blue Cube IV (2019) is situated on the floor and reaches 42 inches in height. Moving around this physical object reconfigures the sequence of color and, as the cast resin absorbs light it appears both solid and ethereal as it sits on its contiguous, narrow aluminum base. Walsh’s methods and vocabulary have remained very focused over many years, and rather than approach exhaustion or completion, do the exact opposite. The recurrence of motif simply adds a consistency to the meditative or trance like effects—the semiotic nature of codified painterly marks remaining fluid—correspondences and associations persist beyond rational description.