Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

At War With Nature? Jorge Queiroz at Sikkema Jenkins

Jorge Queiroz at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

January 31 to March 2, 2013
530 West 22nd Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212-929-2262


Jorge Queiroz, Alphabet, 2011. Vinyl ink on canvas, 23-1/2 x 31-1/2 inches.  Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
Jorge Queiroz, Alphabet, 2011. Vinyl ink on canvas, 23-1/2 x 31-1/2 inches. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Portuguese painter Jorge Queiroz is hot in the pursuit of something new in abstraction.  His show is founded on an original idiom of for the most part organic forms that are captivating and challenging, stimulating the viewer to investigate a seemingly informal but actually highly structured series of paintings. Working in the gray area between realism and abstraction, veering closer to the latter, the artist mixes shapes and colors into rough configurations that contain all manner of formal interest. Faces are laid sideways on the canvas; colors are chosen with something close to abandon. While there is a deliberate choice of freedom bordering on anarchic abandon—and at this point we feel obliged to comment that the tactic is close to cliché—Queiroz nonetheless establishes a niche where he can paint in a process-oriented, unsystematic manner while retrieving what he wants from the past. The implications are clear: we are in need of an idiom which would do justice to the history of painting but which would also show us a way out of excessive reverence for what proceeds us in art.

In the painting Waiting on the Sand (2012), we can see Queroz buld up a figurative tableau on the lower half of the picture: a person in red, holding his hand to his head, while sitting on the sand. Above him, large boulder-like forms in different colors threaten to fall all around him. What is the painting about? Is it a constrained allegory, in which an individual exists at war with nature? Or is it a mere conflation, without extraordinary narrative meaning, of forms and style? It is truly hard to say what is happening in Queiroz’s specialty as a creator of conundrums enigmas past words. His resistance to pure formalism feels contemporary in its implications, just as his attraction to abstract shapes makes the work not only more complicated stylistically, but also less involved with storytelling. H Is for Heads (2012) is an even more complicated abstraction, underscored by various forms that look like they should be legible in a figurative sense, but in fact they never quite are. This amounts to a strategic rule in Queiroz, in which abstraction struggles to move into the realm of a meaningful figuration. The two idioms are never completely at home with each other.

In H Is for Head, we see a painting done with oil stick and vinyl ink on canvas; several inchoate heads can be found on the top of the composition; others are scattered throughout the painting field. A dark-brown blotch holds the center, while a lyric blue occurs on either side of the work. The rest of the canvas contains a complicated mix of forms and colors, accommodating each other none too gracefully. Perhaps the awkwardness in Queiroz’s style shows us that, for the painter, the elucidation of a particular style is a messy affair. It certainly complicates the paintings we see, which are, in the final analysis, rich with intricacies and conundrums that a simple reading of the art won’t solve. Queiroz strives for complexity by mixing formats and roughing up the edges between forms on the canvas—we can see this in The Alphabet (2011), which has a tan-colored, roughly human form on the left. Behind this man-mummy is a broad expanse of an orange background, complete with a dark circle or hole toward the middle of the painting. The orange form curves down on the right, suggesting perhaps a human soldier, but we really can’t ascertain the content of much of what is rendered. With a lot of artists, this might become a tic to worry about, but with Queiroz, real mystery takes place.

Jorge Queiroz, H for Heads, 2012. Oil stick and vinyl ink on canvas, 63 x 71 inches. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
click to enlarge