It’s Elementary: Painting 101 at Sargent’s Daughters
Francesca DiMattio, Dennis Hollingsworth, Jonathan Lasker, Daniel Rios Rodriguez, Sandi Slone
November 6 to December 7, 2013
179 East Broadway
New York, 917-463-3901
This broad-reaching exhibition with a deceptively simple title tackles the innate connection between painting and language. All of the work included Painting 101 at Sargent’s Daughters deals with language not as the repetitive system of facts, figures, and momentary emotions, but in its original form—a method of recording sounds and images that resonate meaning. Of the five artists in the show, two seem handpicked based on the theme: Jonathan Lasker’s lilliputian tablets are enigmatic, joyous and colorful lexicons, while Sandi Slone’s Red Letter Day (2013) is a direct reference to the ultimate interchangeability of letters and images as one and the same thing. Daniel Rios Rodriguez and Francesca DiMattio flirt with the comfort of clichéd imagery and the response that is automatically inspired in the viewer when such images are collaged or taken out of context or otherwise transmogrified. Dennis Hollingsworth approaches the dialogue from the complete opposite side, positing paint as object.
The curation of the show stays carefully academic: all the paintings exist within the confines of “abstraction,” but the works are not relegated to any generational or aesthetic categorization. A series of Hollingsworth’s oil paint sculptures (all 2013) within glass vitrines are the esoteric outliers, and with titles like The Ultimate Manifestation #415 and So Many Chimeras #414, clearly these are not merely an exercise in the structural capabilities of oil paint, though in that regard they are quite fabulous. As gooey, glossy and vaguely vegetal and sexual looking objects, they represent that small minority of art works which reconstitute a time honored medium in a new way—like a shaped poem by e.e. cummings. The refashioning of a painting back into a three dimensional object is the real subtext here, though the artist’s clear enjoyment of messing with the paint distracts the viewer from what is really going on.
Daniel Rios Rodriguez’s thickly impastoed vanitas painting, Untitled (2013), similarly utilizes Hollingsworth’s over-the-top aesthetic as a gesture of painterly self-abnegation. The image of a skull, so recognizable as a painter’s trope, as are his other two paintings in the show, a blue apple still life and Goodnight Moon (both 2013), as to verge on kitsch, is rendered with a new life when so self-consciously overdone. Francesca DiMattio applies a reverse approach to familiar imagery with three large paintings, Banquet (Panels C, D, and E) (all 2010) by weaving familiar images such as seascapes, flower paintings, and other still lives into a modernist interior. There is a confusion between what is painted and what is collaged to the surface of the canvas. Some of the images are collaged prints, others are rather meticulously reproduced by hand, mimicking the chiaroscuro and sfumato of the supposed old masters and impressionist paintings within the paintings. That the history of all painting can be digested and regurgitated to great effect, and without shyness, is perhaps one lesson of Modernism that DiMattio’s canvases point to.
There is a linguistic dialogue between Sandi Slone’s large-scale painting Red Letter Day and Jonathan Lasker’s delicate glyphs. All four of Lasker’s works on paper present what seems to be a singular figure/word/symbol. At times these symbols visit each other from one page to the next, and we come out knowing the four of them quite intimately. In S-156 Untitled (2012) a tangled Mobius strip, thickly painted in orange, purple, and green, sits in the foreground while numerous and orderly ink representations of this form flicker in a procession of boxes in the background. A stolid, black grid-like figure is flatly realized next to the color strip. Are all these painted forms meant to be read as an idea, a sentence, or representations of something familiar? In S-130 The Plan for Morality (2009) mushroom-like objects inhabit a regimented field, painted over recessive Dubuffet-like calligraphic constructions. Lasker’s paintings demand “reading” versus free movement across the picture plane. Sandi Slone’s Red Letter Day is awash with symbols, and seems more like the cave walls of Lascaux or Le Chauvet. Her paintings are an accretion of visual ideas over time. From the upper right hand corner we read a bright red aleph-like shape, but this visual key presides over a cascade of less discernable but still interpretable signs. Black circles, boxes and ladders fall away from the aleph into a rosy and grey miasma. Eros (2009) uses a similar figure ground typology, a single brushstroke with six dangling pods looms over a washy fade from light blue to yellow, like some forgotten gesture to call up a goddess.
Like all introductory courses, Painting 101 presents a wide sampling of practices and lays out the fundamentals of composition, subject matter and style. But what this exhibition offers above all is a contemporary assessment of interstitial work—works by artists that don’t fall into any easily discernible category. Like the text based paintings of Stuart Davis or the overtly symbolic paintings of Paul Klee or Richard Pousette-Dart, the five artists on view at Sargent’s Daughters experiment with modes of representation that either immediately seem indecipherable, or employ a deceptive simplicity that betrays a much deeper meaning. In effect, Painting 101 lays out the rules of the discipline with an enigmatic selection of exceptions.