Contributed by Adam Simon / It has been argued that there is no such thing as an abstract painting anymore, only pictures of abstract paintings. What sounds like a slur on abstract painters is simply an acknowledgement that digital technology, social media and the proliferation of images has affected how we see, well, everything. That being said, one can still refer to a spectrum, with more depictive at one end and more abstract at the other. Adam Henry’s richly compact exhibition of paintings at Candice Madey is striking, both for how he traverses the full range of this spectrum and how each painting (and one easily missed sculpture) is distinct from all the others in the show.
Where most artists edit out their anomalies and inconsistencies, here each work articulates a specific visual idea without concern for stylistic consistency. The exhibition feels like a conversation, both about how porous the line between abstraction and depiction actually is, and a conversation between objects that are like people in a room, each with something to contribute. The paintings seem to exist in a liminal space where perception and cognition hang out together, without the disruption of an interpretive intellect. There is also the suggestion that the viewer is not just someone who looks, but a participant and respondent. Each work seems to insist on something that is never made explicit, propositions becoming puzzles.
The recognizable images in the show mostly reference light, that great enabler. A hand holding a flashlight, paired light bulbs, what could be seen as an overhead spotlight, are each centrally positioned and fully frontal. They may be rendered images of things in the world, but they are presented in the manner of signs, not signs as schematic referents but as images that point elsewhere. At the same time, the more abstract works conjure associations. Perhaps my favorite piece is Untitled (Id), two conjoined canvases, an oval sitting on top of a square, with the part of the oval that extends below the square painted black, everything else a uniform white. Its minimalism feels humorously alchemical, in the way of Ellsworth Kelly or Fred Sandback. I first thought of a water line, but the head-like oval asserts a different kind of submersion, borne out in the title. Another piece, Untitled (Origin) could almost be a depiction of a setting sun were it not for the extreme economy of its making, which competes as the truer subject. A glance at the edge of the canvas reverses our sense of positive and negative and focuses attention on how it came about.
Untitled (Atmosphere), one of the larger works, feels like the centerpiece of the show, apparently a night sky, but with a disturbingly luminous layered circle at its center, standing in for what in a satellite photo would probably be a planet. I noted what might be an optical illusion, in which the interior of the circle appears to be behind what is outside of it; a space carved out of a depiction of space.
The one text based painting, Untitled (Becoming), is at once cryptic and literal. It reads, “a painting becoming a photograph”. The odd placement of the two ‘a’s brought to mind the bouncing ball in early animated film sing-a-longs, because of the way my eye bounced from one ‘a’ to the other. According to Candice Madey, the painting was done freehand through careful observation of printed text, allowing for subtle discrepancies. These days, most paintings become photographs; copied, posted, linked to. Because this is the sole text painting, it seems to key the entire show, an allusion to alternative forms of representation, writing becoming a painting, painting becoming a photograph, perhaps a wink to Walter Benjamin.
Finally, there is what I referred to as an easily missed sculpture, which is not a sculpture, so much as a plant emerging from a ceramic container with a tiny opening. It sits on the shelf of a window, soaking up the light.
“Adam Henry: God Speed Demon,” Candice Madey, LES, 1 Rivington St., New York, NY 10002. Through April 10, 2021.
About the Author: Adam Simon will be exhibiting paintings with Osmos Address, NYC, in April, 2021. Simon’s work is currently included in a virtual exhibition with Adam Henry and Gary Stephan, curated by Saul Ostrow, viewable here.