Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Morphological Mutiny: Steve DiBenedetto, Alexander Ross and James Siena at David Nolan Gallery

December 10, 2009 – January 23, 2010
527 West 29th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues
New York City, 212-925-9139

James Siena, Earthless 2009. Enamel on aluminum, 38-3/4 x 30-1/16 inches
James Siena, Earthless 2009. Enamel on aluminum, 38-3/4 x 30-1/16 inches
Steve DiBenedetto, Untitled 2008. Oil on canvas, 36 x 24 inches
Steve DiBenedetto, Untitled 2008. Oil on canvas, 36 x 24 inches

The shape-shifting biomorph continues its 100-plus year march at David Nolan Gallery.  Tracking the various frequencies on the pliant bandwidth of Biomorphism, Morphological Mutiny brings together paintings, drawings and prints by Steve DiBenedetto, Alexander Ross, and James Siena.  Incorporating abstraction and figuration, these three artists deliver an absorbing mix of the transformative, illustrational and apocalyptic strains in current painting.

Siena spins out maximalist effects from discreet minimal units.  His deceptively understated work yields a wealth of form and content, ranging from geometric abstract progressions and softly liquefied, optical grid flows, to cosmic-comic characters and sexualized tricksters.  In the middle zone, drawings titled Liminal Spaceand Liminal Pathway probe the ambiguous and interconnected play between unfolding space and figurative embrace. In Liminal Space, Siena dissipates form and charts the expansion of space that accompanies increasing formlessness.  Conversely, Liminal Pathway manifests embodied form that inhabits space.   Remixing high and low with a scratchy line and a fuzzy scrawl, Siena rehatches Biomorphism.  And in Angry Forms, a study sheet of five agitated shapes, he aptly insinuates a connection to Thought Forms, a 1901 treatise by Annie Beasant and Charles Leadbeater about the correspondence of emotion to shape and color.

Siena’s Earthless , with its smooth, enamel-painted aluminum surface, requires only a few seconds of attention before it works its magic and takes your breath away.   The labyrinthine spaces suddenly coalesce and rise and fall, optically vibrating as if an animated topographical map were pooling and waving its peaks and hollows.  For those interested in the psychedelic effects of retinal painting rooted in archetype, Siena offers an amazingly effective delivery system.

Across the gallery hangs Ross’s Untitled 2008-9 painting of a glam, klieg lit, sci-fi biomorph ready for its close up.   Glistening and chiseled, the figure is a world away from Siena’s expansive tail-biting interiority.  Instead, we face a caffeinated realm of enhanced, bright but relatively normative space.

Utilizing a computer collage aesthetic, Ross manipulates photo images of his plasticine sculptures and paints the results with sumptuous color and graphic finesse.  His seductive and precisely organized gradations of volume announce an ultra-mediated process.  Inspired by the microbial, Ross restyles the surrealistic figure via YvesTanguy and Gumby, shelving any vestige of automatism.  What remains is an emphatically descriptive, photo-realized affair with mutations from the lens.

Alexander Ross, Untitled 2008-9. Oil on canvas, 43 x 58 inches. All images courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York
Alexander Ross, Untitled 2008-9. Oil on canvas, 43 x 58 inches. All images courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York

In Untitled 2008-9 Ross’s highly articulated figure is set against an abstract ground; the ensuing construction of pictorial space is simple and graphic.  The preening alien seems grafted onto the decorative backdrop, an effect oddly reminiscent of Cecil Beaton’s 1951 Vogue shots of a model in front of a Pollack painting at the Betty Parsons Gallery.  In Untitled 2009 however, the ground is a dynamic field that creates a compelling tension with the figure, as both share a structural DNA that intimates the possibility of infiltration through a porous border.  It will be interesting to see if Ross will allow the figure to burst its container and break on through to the other side.

Unstable and apocalyptic, Steve DiBenedetto’s mesmerizing drawings and energetic paintings are intriguingly complex.  In DiBenedetto’s Untitled and Quantascape drawings of 2009, colored pencil and graphite seem to scatter and coalesce in rhythmic pulsations across the sheet.  Using a protean array of line and color, in which figures slip into fields, architecture and constellations, DiBenedetto distinguishes himself as one of the best drawing practitioners around.  In Untitled 2009, shape-shifting grotesques meander across the oscillating fields, and freely associate like Rorschach blots in a psychedelic blur of color.  In Quantascape the punchy and economical use of white ground nearly upends the colorful swirl of effects.

There is a method to DiBenedetto’s sympathetic and synaptically connected free flow of imagery; the continuity between the paintings is undeniable. In Untitled 2008 DiBenedetto uses a relatively modest paint application against which he incises a web-like scaffolding by drawing paint away from the surface.  White and amber paint is then reapplied to openings within and around the structure creating a golden glow. He conveys an experiential ethos reminiscent of late Surrealist paintings of the 1930’s and 40’s by the likes of Matta, Gordon Onslow-Ford and Jerome Kamrowski.

Dibenedetto along with his comrades Siena and Ross have defined an architectural endoskeleton within the body of the biomorph, a decidedly third millennium proposition.