Sunday, August 1st, 2004

Andrew Masullo: Recent Paintings

Joan T. Washburn
20 West 57 Street, New York, N.Y., 10019

June 3 – July 23, 2004

Andrew Masullo 4084 (2003) oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches Courtesy Joan T. Washburn Gallery
Andrew Masullo, 4084 (2003) oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches Courtesy Joan T. Washburn Gallery

The extraordinary thing about Andrew Masullo’s current show at Washburn is its variety. In a period in which painters are constantly categorized as abstract or representational, geometric or organic, hard edge or painterly, Andrew Masullo exhibits a group of recent paintings which refuse to be categorically any of these. His paintings are correspondingly uneven, yet compensate the viewer with their audacity, exuberance and inventiveness.

There are patterns to this inventiveness. Masullo’s color choices remain pretty constant often relying on bold reds and straight whites as ground. Against these he works in a regular set of yellows, blues, greens and hues. The paintings’ surfaces are heavily textured. This is one of the mysteries of the work, for the texture almost never corresponds to the image, the form of which resides in the thin skein of paint that is the paintings uppermost layer. There, strange blobs that call to mind bowling pins and baby rattles share space with a more classical geometry. The forms often flirt with figuration. In two cases, the artist goes so far as to add tiny arms and legs to his geometry, a distressing decision the only merit of which is perhaps its flagrant willingness to attempt something different. Otherwise, these tiny appendages distract.

The strongest paintings in the show are both direct and poetic. “4099” and “4085” are two. Their number titles, like all those in the show, are another of Masullo’s mysteries. In “4099,” colored diamonds and squares hang in red space anchored by a dark diamond in the upper right. In “4085,” spindly globular forms in pink, yellow, orange, black and blue echo one another diagonally across the painting’s surface. These forms look like balloon animals, a fitting association given the carnival mood of all Masullo’s coloring. In both paintings, the artist exhibits a gift for easy and adept placement of forms.

Packed end to end in one small room of Washburn’s three, the strong paintings share cramped wall space with the weak such as “4100,” in which multicolored cloud forms feel not adeptly placed but thoughtlessly crammed together. There is no relationship of form to ground in this painting as no ground is visible. Neither is there a change in scale. There is just the one form, repeated to fill the picture plane. Across the way hangs “4073.” It is quite clearly a big black Christmas tree ornament with little red arms and legs. It is set on a diagonal against its white ground and its presence in the show is a nuisance.

For all its unevenness, and in part because of it, Masullo’s recent paintings are aggressively engaging. This is a seductive quality for the viewer and an effective one for the artist. Whatever he might lose due to a poor decision, Masullo regains in his willingness to take a risk. Such carelessness as the artist shows seems requisite to the inventiveness that is his strength.