The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2021

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JUNE 2021 Issue
ArtSeen

Don Voisine

On View
McKenzie Fine Art
May 14 – June 27, 2021
New York
“The fold is inseparable from the wind. Ventilated by the wind, it is no longer a fold of matter through which one sees, but the fold of the Soul in which one reads…the Book or the monad with multiple leaves. So it contains all folds, since the set of possible combinations of its leaves are infinite; but it includes them within its enclosure and all of its actions are internal.” — Gilles Deleuze

Analogous to the epigraph, each of Don Voisine’s specifically-inscribed paintings imply a larger book of “multiple leaves.” One encounters his compositions as self-contained and extensive. The artist’s deliberate mapping of peripheral and central morphologies around “voids” of graphic intention express how one can see both through and at a painting: a simultaneous read of the subjectively local and objectively infinite. His work queries: “What is the actual nature and meaning of spatial complexity in abstract painting?” Does an abstract “fold” speak for itself in its lateral breadth, its invitation to a perpetually unfolding gestalt, or does the pragmatic, formal plotting of a rectangle offer a hard stop to such philosophical indeterminacy?

Don Voisine, <em>Mirror/Mirror</em>, 2020. Oil on wood panel, 53 x 80 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art.
Don Voisine, Mirror/Mirror, 2020. Oil on wood panel, 53 x 80 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art.

But Voisine’s approach to the fold is definitely not Bernini voluptuary. He creases space with a razor-sharp precision that quickens the “flip” between obverse and inverse so that the viewer experiences an uncanny spatial extension-compression. The genetic code of this tendency traces back to the American Precisionism of Charles Sheeler and early Ralston Crawford, though Voisine seems to be additionally influenced by the contemporary planarity induced by the unencumbered navigation of virtual, digital space.

Don Voisine, <em>Cutter</em>, 2019. Oil on wood panel, 60 x 60 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art.
Don Voisine, Cutter, 2019. Oil on wood panel, 60 x 60 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art.

Consider a painting such as Mirror/Mirror (2020) for instance. Its diptych format, though a single panel, unequivocally suggests a parallax view of a double central black void. Is this the abstract back and front of a mirror simultaneously painting out the idea of a singular existential lack? And what of the peripheral incident surrounding this double void, the white and dark gray rectangles and triangles that frame that lack—that rest and flip vertically like a playing card suit? The resultant space, graphically stretched on horizontal and vertical axes, gains a lateral extension that simultaneously expands and compresses. Therein lies the unfolding of the artist’s “multiple leaves.”

Voisine takes these basic elements through all sorts of paces and compositional variations in his seventh one-person show at McKenzie Fine Art. In Cutter (2021) his characteristic central void is slashed by two acute triangles that flip up and down in a horizontal bifurcation of the painting’s center. Like in Mirror/Mirror, another of the artist’s characteristic inventions here includes a band of monochromatic color on top and bottom. The solid red in Cutter has an appropriately more shrill chromatic punch than the more contemplative deep blue in the former. These color choices serve to modulate and impart an emotional mood to the speed of Voisine’s space. An additional color modifier in both (and seen throughout multiple works in the show) is a pinstripe line of contrasting hue, akin to the custom coding of car culture, and so imparts his paintings an idiomatic dimension of pop valency.

Don Voisine, <em>Night Beat</em>, 2020. Oil on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art.
Don Voisine, Night Beat, 2020. Oil on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art.

In the rest of the exhibition one witnesses subtle elaborations of Voisine’s direct means of arriving at paintings that, though serial in construct, are each a very specific presence. In Strike Twice (2021) and Night Beat (2020), two smaller works, one sees how a triangular shape can be put to very different uses. The former is similar in format to Cutter, yet with the double triangle vector aligned vertically. The title alludes to lightning and this arrangement also aligns with the graphic clarity of the translation of natural forces into woven textiles as seen in the indigenous American Diné tribe’s “crystal” pattern. The latter painting presents almost the same acute triangle, yet this time horizontally striking an oblong rectangle. In this instance it appears as a stylus inscribing a tablet. The consistency and yet malleability of this basic formal vocabulary in the artist’s work is fascinating.

It’s important to consider Voisine’s work in relation to the larger history of recent abstract painting which has deployed geometric form and coded color to populate the branches of this tradition. One aspect of this now century-old tendency is an appeal to empirical reason based upon idealized notions of the “concretization” of experience. Abstract art considered in such a specialized continuum can take on an unappealing didacticism, as if the maintenance of concrete ideals represents an actual bulwark against illustrative pictorialism. In reality, it’s the perennial duty of the most interesting inheritors of this long investigation to artfully avoid such ideological cul-de-sacs. Painters such as Harvey Quaytman and Gary Stephan are among that number, so is Don Voisine. As in previous exhibitions, he proves that the precise navigation of an abstract fold has the potential to unfurl multitudes.

Contributor

Tom McGlynn

Tom McGlynn is an artist and writer based in the NYC area. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum of the Smithsonian among other national and international collections. He is an Editor at Large at The Brooklyn Rail, contributing articles and criticism since 2012.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2021

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