Sunday, February 1st, 2004

David Storey

CUE Art Foundation
511 West 25th Street, Ground Floor
New York, New York 10001

January 29 – March 6, 2004

David Storey Kentaurennamen 2004 oil on canvas, 104 x 68 inches courtesy CUE Art Foundation
David Storey, Kentaurennamen 2004 oil on canvas, 104 x 68 inches courtesy CUE Art Foundation

David Storey is one of the few formalist painters I can think of who hasn’t replaced inventiveness with monotony. Any painter who invents forms might inevitably fall prey to illusionism, but not so Storey. Although recognizable shapes appear in a few of these paintings (horses, owls, arrows), he builds his imaginary worlds using a private idiom. Storey has lovingly and obsessively recycled his private signs and symbols through the years. The individual components of these busy but clearly delineated compositions remind us of many things, but at the same time they are autonomous.

The experience of looking at these paintings is the opposite of cloud gazing, where you find yourself searching for one referent after another. The commonly-heard criticisms of abstract art-that it fetishizes and distorts the human figure, transforms everything into a phallic symbol, is onanistic and subjective, hides the artist’s lack of technical skills-don’t apply to this work. Storey is so concerned with formal qualities his imaginary shapes look the way they do because of their relationship to other parts of the composition. But at the same time they are not cut off from the external world or the history of art. This is what makes his work enigmatic.

These paintings are flat. The tightly interlocking planes of bright color suggest psychological states instead of specific physical spaces but first and foremost they serve the overall design. Storey incorporates a number of subtleties into each canvas. Dripped paint, loose brushwork, and evidence of previous states of the painting appear amidst flat areas of color, but are made prominent by their scarcity. Painted black lines outline most of the shapes in these paintings, but some of the painted lines are done with colors we find in other areas of the painting. This makes the pictorial space more complicated than it would be if Storey simply painted black lines in front of colors that suggested deep space. Also, the black lines outline areas of color, but some colored shapes have no outline at all, and most of the time the colors are not enclosed by the lines and spread beyond them. The patchwork of bright intense colors and the linear structures interact but have a separate existence. The variety of marks simulates textural variation.

“The Age of Brass,” (2003), is a perfect example of what Storey can do with the oval and the square. This busy painting is a mosaic of sorts. Storey, not unlike Picabia in his imaginary machine paintings, makes the viewer feel comfortable in a world of rather anonymous shapes. However, Storey’s paintings are machines that produce what Clement Greenberg called “plastic sight.” There is something brave and incorrigible about Storey’s reuse of shapes, the circle within circle, the lozenge, rectangles, elongated boomerang shapes, Miróesque mustachios, and squiggles. Stuart Davis reused shapes and never failed to be inventive. His brightly colored squiggles activated the whole frame, and even when Davis introduced recognizable shapes into the mix, fire hydrants, figures, architecture, his canvases always maintained a militant flatness and a strong sense of movement and design. Storey is interested in what Greenberg called the “decorative and narrative complications of line.” The horses that appear in “Sol Invictus,” (2002), are as mechanical and iconic as the figures that appear in Davis’ work. However, Storey’s work depends very little on observation of the exterior world.

David Storey Adorama 2003 oil on canvas, 65 x 156 inches courtesy CUE Art Foundation
David Storey, Adorama 2003 oil on canvas, 65 x 156 inches courtesy CUE Art Foundation

In “Adorama,” (2003), a masterpiece in my opinion, Storey divides the canvas between cool blues, browns and greens and hot oranges and reds. Then he puts flashes of hot yellow and orange in the cool half and blue and green shapes in the hot half. The interplay between hot and cool colors and the dividing and subdividing of pictorial space energizes these canvases. Storey’s obscurity does not frustrate the viewer because of the satisfying formal qualities of the work. His compositions are precarious balancing acts. The placement of color and line is dependent upon the artist’s intuitive sense of balance. These canvases have been worked on for a long time and the clarity of the imagery is a product of this slow moving contemplative process.

“The Silver Spear,” (2003), “Venus & Mars,” (1990), and “Kentaurennamen,” (2004), contain masculine and feminine personas. Storey’s pictorial structures evoke different subjects, but the inventive treatment of form is paramount. His paintings are constructed worlds that have their own independent existence. The outside world is recreated in a completely new form. Storey’s slow, unhurried and steady brushstrokes create an interesting tension between control and expression. He shows us that painters can pursue their formalist interests and not sacrifice invention and the imagination.