Guest contributor Jonathan Stevenson / “Something Naught,” the new group show at Centotto, Paul D’Agostino’s redoubtable Bushwick salon, gathers four abstract artists who take very different approaches to resolving surfaces. The fact that surfaces themselves have aesthetic value in paintings sets painting apart from, say, digital work. So deciding how to exploit the surface of a painting to establish and convey content is key to realizing that painting’s full expressive potential. D’Agostino, with this clever selection, offers a trenchant visual essay on the full range of conventional strategies, variations thereon, and more experimental approaches.
[Image at top: Christopher Dunlap. Dunlap’s solo show “Deep Space / Shallow Grave,” opens tonight at GCA in Bushwick.]
At the conventional end of the spectrum are Christopher Dunlap’s impeccable geometric abstractions, in which he arrays vertices, angular variations, or sharply contrasting colors with oil paint on a flat canvas to afford the paintings both focus and mystery. Dunlap, then, is the lone “normal” surface resolver, as it were. Matthew Mahler moves to the right in his more freewheeling use of acrylic paint on vinyl. His acrylic mediums give the surfaces a kind of tackiness that, along with figurative allusion and divergent brushstrokes that impart directionality, hold paintings that might otherwise seem affectless together. On a more conceptual level, Mahler’s choice of vinyl over canvas or linen seems to constitute a playfully self-referential exaltation of a new artificiality over traditional “reality.”
In Christopher Thomas D’Acunto’s piece – casually and thinly painted wooden slats, augmented with a stubby bolted-on segment – the surface itself is unabashedly the central aesthetic component. In that sense, the piece at least obliquely recalls the 1960s Supports/Surfaces movement’s gutsy expansion of the substantive aesthetic platform to include supports and materials as well as the canvas, and its practitioners’ observation that the distinction between everyday object and work of art is a fluid and subjective one.
Finally, Ryan DaWalt has rendered pictures using the novel technique of coloring tiny ferromagnetic balls with different pigments, positioning them on linen with magnets, and holding them in place with a spray adhesive. He then mounts the linen – which sometimes incorporates collaged swatches as well as directly affixed granules – on Masonite. The particulate quality of the medium and the dappling effect of magnetic polarization that occurs across the surface give the paintings a hypnotic corduroy-like look. This, in turn, obscures their interior edges, ominously referencing what may be unrevealed in a domestic scene eyed from a balcony or a more distant aerial view of physical civilization.
D’Agostino’s compact exhibition implies that collectively, Bushwick artists are eclectic, embracing a generous expanse of evolved techniques for utilizing surfaces and coming up with some new ones of their own that may prove durable and compelling. It’s not so much that anything goes, but rather that plenty works.
“Something Naught,” with Christopher Dunlap, Matthew Mahler, Christopher Thomas D’Acunto, Ryan DaWalt. Centotto, Bushwick, New York, NY. Closing TBD.
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