How to break free from the rectangle – The Brooklyn Rail
April 7 – May 7, 2022
Absent any punctuation, How to free yourself from the rectangle reads like a directive. Decades ago this might have been a matter of nostalgia, but now the painting’s rectangle has been bent, torn, stitched up and looped back on itself, so it might be easy to poke fun at the premise and its distance from the radical. . But this modest survey accomplishes a small miracle: it justifies painting’s bullish intrusions into other mediums.
In the opening room, two pieces promise divergent approaches: that of Eric Mack Bodice (2022), a length of polyester pasted and inflated along the wall, and that of Liz Larner Asteroid (Jones) (2020), a heavy ceramic dripping with glaze. While Mack’s installation is blurred – as if flatness has been released in performance – Larner’s ceramic compresses color and form so that its dimensionality seems like a crumpling of the picture plane. Here are two poles of the materiality of painting: the aerial and the earthy, one linked to the extensible grid of textiles, the other hardened in the oven. And, if method leads to affect, two distinct attitudes are apparent: Mack’s playful expansion of the rectangle and Larner’s refusal to engage with it, a claim to the pigment’s ability to exist as its own. substrate.
The propensity of rectangle painting is relatively recent; it is a passage from the spiritual to the domestic. Cave painters worked in multi-generational layers, using uneven rock faces as compositional devices; Giotto’s Chapel in Padua is a giant blue arch that overwhelms peripheral vision; even the Pompeii frescoes stretched across entire rooms, and the fact that we felt them to be neat cutouts has everything to do with the decisions made by archaeologists and museums. If Larner is Asteroid takes paint back to its mineral roots, then Mack’s Bodice propels the decorative impulse on the body. This is the spectrum: from the geological and the universal to everyday life, a movement towards tenderness. I have never seen painting presented in such clear terms. The rectangle, as a form, is a momentary fascination – painters can return to a past absent from its influence, where color came from the earth and was scribbled on the walls; or they can pull on its warp and weft, lean on its complexities.
Color is form and textile is form. From this door, the work extends. Susan Cianciolo’s patchwork piece, with its wooden center, reverses the hierarchy of stretcher and canvas, like a quilt turning into a campfire or a spiraling checkerboard into an incantation. by Harold Mendez Postpone (2022) is a fragment, a tree branch struggling against an iron fence. Its grid, blackened with cochineal, indigo, graphite and charcoal, shows the artificial and the natural bending into a vulgar crucifix. Rachel Eulena Williams, one of the most important painters of this generation, is represented by a single work, reflective blue petal (2022) – a flourish of fabric against dark green canvas, pink string as a plumb line, meticulously painted staples and sketchy embroidery against brushstrokes, like nervous parasites in a landscape. The composition recalls a Greek Hermes in its amalgamation of architecture and figuration, the burgeoning expressionism of the structure, the rectangle almost nourishing acts beyond its limits, the denouement of its grid. It would have been fruitful to see the work of Eulena Williams alongside artists such as Mónica Palma and Kemar Keanu Wynter, whose formalisms are involved in the local, such as performative interventions or systematic abstractions of memories.
At the center of the show is Savannah Knoop’s Leap year (October/November/December 2020/January 2022) (2022), a piece that unifies the two impulses towards hardening and separation. Knoop rolled New York Times stranded pages, dipped them in resin and pigments, and wove them together. The result is a nest of language, confused and specific. The words spring out: the story, covid, hybrid, dream; then pieces of words, reframed with a roller, has my-, Log-, say-; then single letters, initials, uppercase, lowercase, O, you, S. Everything disintegrates, one line of prose extending into the next, knots pulling the type towards concentrated abstractions. Sentences are pulled into gibberish knots, and Knoop’s hand works against meaning. Faced with this mass of news, there is a sense of the recursive, the fatality of the mute repetition of history.
If the painting exists in the shadow of the rectangle, these compressions and expansions reflect something of our times. Over the past two years, the domestic has become the universal, and these works, in their exploration of the medium, show how art will continue to blur those boundaries. Freed from the rectangle, the painting seems necessary and tender.