Jason Stopa: The Gate at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects
August 2 – 31, 2018
208 Forsyth Street, between Houston and Stanton streets
New York City, shfap.com
Jason Stopa (quoted from the press release of the present exhibition) speaks of his paintings as “stages” in which “marks and images are actors acting in space”. If Stopa’s paintings are performative venues, this raises a question: has the performance concluded, or is it ongoing? Are Stopa’s stages the arenas of Action Painting, where the finished picture exists as a frozen testament to the act of its creation? Stopa’s works are not that simple. Activated by a colorful background in the gallery space, the paintings occupy one layer of a baroque abyss that is channeled inward—into pictures-within-pictures—and outward into our own reality.
Each of the seven paintings is hung against a red and yellow diamond pattern that covers the gallery’s walls, clearly painted by the same hand responsible for the canvases. Stopa’s brushwork is both affective and deliberate; like an actor who has rehearsed his lines a thousand times over, he looks to have put untold effort into making his performance appear effortless. The red lines and yellow fields unite the paintings while acting as a framing device. Much like an old master painting packed inside a gilded frame that’s weighed down with serifs and arabesques, Stopa’s paintings have indefinite boundaries between their depicted fiction and concrete reality. Two Views of Nature (2018) uses these same red lines to create the outline of a stage on the canvas, and Johari Window (2018) inverts the color scheme within its borders. Each painting is part of a larger entity and, in turn, contains other paintings within its interior space.
Two Views of Nature (2018) shows a pair of paintings placed en-abyme on a red and blue stage. The left-hand painting is linear and grass-like; the one on the right is calligraphic, black-on-yellow. This motif occurs again in Two Abstractions on a Stage, which features green pictures-within-pictures. Above each pair is a narrow window, the border of which has been extruded from a tube of paint. The paintings on the stages recall the placement of works in the gallery, but are a dimension removed from the actual canvases and exist only within another work’s diegetic space, like a play-within-a-play being performed on a fictional stage that is itself presented on an actual stage.
Another pair of paintings flips the viewpoint to show a possible audience or, at least, a space that could contain one. In the Pavilion (for Harold Budd) (2018) shows four rows of forms that resemble seat backs, and Syrian Damask Rose (Mushroom Cloud) (2018) has rows of staggered shapes that can also be seen as the work’s titular explosions. Facing the audience in some instances, and the stage in others, viewers occupy a paradoxical space between spectacle and spectator. We are outside the illusion depicted on the canvases yet within its walls at the same time. The paintings themselves balance on the knife’s edge between illusion and physicality, having their illusionistic spaces snapped back to flatness by areas of tubular impasto. Each of these paintings has a work placed en-abyme that echoes its dominant shape: an arch for Pavilion, and a mushroom cloud for Rose. These shapes are, like the windows in the stage paintings, applied straight from the tube and look heavy enough to peel away from the surface.
Another pair of paintings, The entrance to the gate (2018) and Johari Window, use the side-by-side, picture-in-picture format of the stage paintings while lacking their perspectival depth. The lines form diamond patterns—recalling the walls behind them—and vertical stripes that extend off the top of the canvas. The paintings en-abyme are mirrored between the two: Entrance has a green impasto “X” against a sunset-like gradient on the left, while Window has an extruded white diamond against a blue gradient on the right. Every work in the show has a doppelganger with the exception of The Big Picture (2018). Aptly titled, the large canvas contains eight representations of black-on-blue calligraphic paintings overlaid by one large pink and white one, outlined in yellow impasto. Perhaps this painting’s twin is the exhibition itself: They are, after all, both large self-contained works with many paintings within their boundaries. Spectators in the gallery viewing Stopa’s work occupy both sides of the conceptual divide between performers and audience. We are inside the work looking out, by virtue of being surrounded by it, while simultaneously being outside looking in at a fictional world. The performance thus continues; a fictional audience watches us from the painted theater as we gaze back at them.