Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Paul Corio at 210 Gallery

January 23 to February 28
210 24th Street (R train to 25th Street)
Brooklyn, 718.499.6056

When an artist has decades of hard work and solid accomplishment behind him, his first one-man New York exhibition is particularly momentous. Such is the case with “No Hassle at the Castle,” the New York solo debut of painter Paul Corio. Trained at RISD and Hunter College, Corio maintains close ties to the latter institution’s “color painters” and brings a hard-earned sense of humor and mischief to Josef Albers-derived abstraction rooted in the phenomenology of optical sensation, a branch of contemporary art not exactly known for big laughs.

Paul Corio, Toga Tiger 2009. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.  Courtesy of the Artist.
Paul Corio, Toga Tiger 2009. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

Across the five-by-five-foot surface of Toga Tiger (acrylic on canvas, 2009) stretches a grid of postage-stamp-sized horizontal rectangles in a limited number of secondary hues. They are separated by strips of a sturdy orange-red about the width of a pencil, and there are a great many gaps in the grid in which the orange-red functions as a ground color. Some of these color chips—blue-green, for example—really pop against this ground, others not so much, and some are so subtle that they are actually less perceptible than the retinal afterimages that form as the viewer scans the painting. As are many of Corio’s paintings, this one is named for a thoroughbred race horse, and according to gallery information the arrangement of colors is derived from the artist’s analysis of results at the Belmont and Aqueduct tracks. Whatever. All you really need to know is right before your eyes.

While Toga Tiger (and its slightly smaller companion piece, El Don Pepe) are based on shifts in hue, Mr. Hi-Hat (2009) is concerned with intensity, saturation. Overlapping disks, striped with a vibrant red and vigorous cerulean blue, drift in a similarly-striped field in which those colors become progressively neutralized—shifted toward gray—until the difference between them is barely perceptible. From a distance (and in photos) the grays take on a greenish cast. It’s a truly weird phenomenon, and quite wonderful. Nine small paintings on panel from 2005 are red/blue, red/green, and orange/green variations on the theme. Each is a zinger, in which Corio’s visual wit is in full effect. While figure (disks) and ground (neutralized murk) are clearly differentiated, each is made of stripes of alternating colors–the ultimate in figure/ground ambiguity.

In the two-foot-square Misterioso (2008), an intertwining circuitry of T and L intersections moves, left to right, through a palette of blue, violet, pink, red, orange, and green; these spectral colors are set against and qualified by a tender, blue-green ground. There are lots of dots. It’s a knockout. Less convincing is MR PC #3, in which the painting’s pixellated treatment resolves into the work’s four-letter title. It recalls stadium scoreboards and transit announcements, but the allusion to commercial graphics seems misplaced, and color relationships take a back seat to issues of linguistic legibility.

The grid organization is canted 45 degrees The Sons of Birdstone, inducing an up-and-down (rather than left-to-right) sense of flow. The surface is covered with hundreds of chevrons made of quarter-inch squares, lemon yellow at the tip, and moving upward through a range of oranges to a full-bore cadmium red before appearing to slide under another, neighboring chevron. The blinking cascade of light the method engenders is utterly absorbing. Sunset Park applies the same approach to a 21-step gray scale, turningBirdstone’s bright-lights-big-city flicker into a smokey, silvery haze. Toward the top of this painting, the darker, upward-pointing peaks inevitably evoke a mountain range in a mist, while below an array of pale points emerges, suggesting fish scales or shingles. The shift in scale is remarkable and, as a sort of rough-cut atmospheric perspective, the perceptual device is plain to see, yet the viewer succombs to its chilly, retinal charms. And he or she might come to believe, as Albers maintained, that the disciplined study of color might beget an emotional response—that the supposedly cool play of chroma opens onto imaginative vistas.