New York City, April 14-30, 2003
Around the gallery walls at Art Link in New York’s garment district stand vivid and yet seemingly disconnected images of animals, buildings, keys, and chairs painted against flat neutral tones. The background serves here and there as a placeless terra firma, or as ether or ambient space. The effect, on walking in the gallery, is familiar and mildly disturbing. It is as if the contents of a child’s toy box had been scattered into a noumenal otherworld we can see only partially through apertures of random size. Most of the images are painted as if cropped; we see the upper two stories of an apartment building, the upper half of a swan, most but not all of a chair. Chair-ness, swan-ness, floating in a delimited sea of beige or gray paint and so cut free of narrative or purpose, taken on a haunting glamour, in the old and more recent senses of the word. The objects depicted are beautiful, and desirable; one wants to own them, to have them around, and they are somehow present and radiant, almost alive. So one is lead to ask, without taking anything away from the work, why? what is the hold of these images?
In his gallery statement the artist, Spanish artist Inaki Lazkoz, refers to the “pure enigmatic presence” of his subjects. Each word, taken alone and relation to the others, has a lot to say about the attraction of his work. Their purity has much to do with the composition of the paintings. The cropping of the images, particularly of the buildings, gives them a portrait-like focus and a non, or more accurately, an a-functional self-sufficiency. The apartment building in “Utica Avenue,” for example, stands in a non-differentiated ochre or taup sky, a diminutive composite of residential forms cut off from the street-level perspective or surrounding structures that might distract us from the interplay of linear forms. Elsewhere, it is hard to tell what some of the buildings are, in functional terms; is this a barn? a garage? a house? Yet the meticulous rendering of detail enforces an impression of particularity distinct from social or commercial context. There is something refreshing and yet bewildering in what Lazkoz is showing us-this non-referential purity. What is a building that is not on a street or a lot or a field, not even in a space? To say that is a painting of a building tells us nothing, or next to nothing. We know it is a painting, but more than that, what we are offered is a kind of abstracted nostalgia, a nostalgia, perhaps, for the act of seeing itself.
Thus their enigmatic quality. The paintings are pure, in the sense I have described, but they are hardly simple or naïve. Yet what is enigmatic about them derives from their purity, or, to put it in more visual terms, their stark clarity. Given the density of the sensual spaces that we move through-with our headsets or car sound systems, crowds everywhere, traffic backed up, pollution draping the edge of the horizon like steel mesh-how often or how well do we see the formal properties of the urban and suburban spaces we move through? Contrast the perceptual clutter of a given moment in a workday with the solitary stillness of the buildings in Lazkoz’s paintings. Lazkoz samples the disjointed stream of daily experience, isolates seemingly arbitrary bits, and in doing so discovers a surprising familiarity, as if the images were there around us but we didn’t know where to look-and of course they were there all along… To some degree the images existed, or images like them, in the tradition of representational painting. In its desolate eloquence his work resembles the haunting interiors and architectural studies of Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi, but without the light or space, or a Hopper without the narrative implications.
This brings us to presence. Here, Lazkoz’s animals make clear what occurs in a more subtle level in his paintings of objects: an animate and articulate if as yet non-verbal engagement projecting from the painting, an intelligent presence looking out from unexpected places. The bull that stares back at us from an atmosphere of warm honey has that confrontational blankness in its big eyes that can stop thought momentarily on a walk along a country road. The eyes takes us in and see through us at the same time, include us in a holistic everything and dismiss the whole as a blur between a blink and a snoutful of grass. The swan includes us in its floating tranquility. The paintings of buildings, similarly, look at us as we look at them, as portraits often seem to do. So, in a sense, our portrait has been taken; we have come to know something pure and enigmatic in ourselves by looking at Lazkoz’s work.