Contributed by Riad Miah / In “The Gate,”Jason Stopa’s fourth New York solo and his first one-person show at Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects, the artist has painted a lattice-like pattern on a bright yellow wall and hung his canvases to look as if they are hanging on a chainlink fence. The lively installation, on view through the end of the month, sets up a playful dialogue between inside and outside and a dichotomy between representation and abstraction. In a 2015 “Beer With A Painter” interview with Jennifer Samet, Stopa said, “I’m interested in making images that reference an innocent way of looking at the world, but which are coming from an adult’s perspective, so they incorporate intellectual and formal concerns.”
Like Stopa himself, his work is approachable, keenly intelligent, and infused with art history. His saturated colors and manner of image making bring to mind several artists, both contemporary and historical. The matter-of-fact use of materials and vivid color conjure the work of Trudy Benson and early Keltie Ferris, while the flirtation between the image and the manner of its making seem to reference Henri Matisse’s paintings, those of Jonathan Lasker, and Red Grooms’ three-dimensional works.
Take, for instance, Two Abstractions on a Stage (image at top). A background gradient of blue and orange suggests atmospheric perspective. Stopa layers vertical lines over the gradient to conjure a room, or a cage with bars, and then he uses a horizontal line to articulate where the wall meets the floor. A series of vertical lines, below the horizontal one, use one-point perspective to create the illusion of space. Stopa maps it out diagrammatically, and the viewer accepts the area depicted as the stage referred to in title of the work. On the stage, Stopa paints two green rectangles. The left rectangle features white brush strokes, the right one black. Together, the rectangles suggest gestural abstract paintings of the New York School. Above those two rectangles, Stopa outlines a yellow horizontal rectangle – similar in color to that of the gallery walls – with lines of red and blue paint squeezed straight out of the tube.
The yellow shape in the painting, the yellow of the gallery walls, the diagrammatic representation of a space, and the physical materials together seem to question what kind of room we are looking at. This notion of collapsing layers of space between the represented and physical has concerned him in previous work. In the interview with Samet, Stopa, talking about a painting that had bottle caps affixed to the surface, said he was “interested in [the paintings] becoming sculptural or installation-based. They are talking about the space inside the painting, they are talking about their perimeter, and they are talking about the space they inhabit.” Now it seems that Stopa has taken his interest in reality vs. illusion one step further.
Two Abstractions on a Stage incorporates another aspect of visual play, too.The thickness of the paint squeezed directly from the tube establishes a figure-ground relationship within the viewing proportions of the exhibition. Three layers of physical space are being addressed simultaneously. The gate or fence painted on the gallery walls is reminiscent of subject matter that is used to address the picture plane; the viewer can see through the space but is held back by the chain. So the work is a kind of hybrid of abstraction and figuration.
The other paintings establish similar spatial dialectics. In Two Views of Nature, linear marks on one staged rectangle describe organic plant life form, and on the other the brushstrokes suggest an intuitive scribbling and an art-historical link to the gestural abstraction of an artist like Robert Motherwell. The two modes at work within these paintings are representation and abstraction, physical space and pictorial space. One message is that pictorial image making that utilizes perspective, gradients of color, geometry, and shape, on one hand, and the graphic elements that represent abstraction, gestural activity, flat color, impasto, on the other, can coexist successfully within one art work.
As Stopa states in the press release for the show, the elements are “actors in space, where a painting can be a stage for events.” In the installation, he has created a situation in which abstract painting strategies and representational approaches, rather than fighting for supremacy, are on stage, side-by-side, at ease with one another. Stopa seems to have imparted something interesting and worthwhile about duality, peace, and the multi-dimensional nature of truth.
“Jason Stopa: The Gate,” Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, LES, New York, NY. Through August 31, 2018.
About the author: Artist and educator Riad Miah was born in Trinidad and Tobago and now lives and works in New York City. He has exhibited with Lesley Heller Workspace, Rooster Gallery, and Sperone Westwater Gallery, among others.
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