Hyper-Saturation of Sign and Signifier: Paul Glabicki’s Relativity
Relativity: Paul Glabicki at Kim Foster Gallery
January 9 to February 15, 2014
529 West 20th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, (212) 229-0044
Paul Glabicki’s quietly dazzling new drawings at Kim Foster interweave fragments of texts, calculations, diagrams, and instructional figures into layered clouds of visual overload. For all their manic complexity, the drawings have a cool touch that gives them the appearance of prints. Their trompe l’oeil is amplified by the rhythmic repetition of motifs, as if mechanically stamped or screened. Actually, they are prints, of a kind, but more on that later.
In each drawing, bursts of solid color catch the eye, meticulous color pencil forgeries of “brushstrokes” (double forgeries, considering their lithographic sheen). The strokes flock together in stacks and rows, recalling not only Roy Lichtenstein’s mid-1960s enlargements of dripping comic book paint strokes (arguably the best Pop paintings ever), but also Roxy Paine’s late-1990’s deadpan update, Pigeon Holes, in which colorless Bondo sculptures of strokes fill a natural history display case as if they were some extinct avian species. Glabicki, though, seems more genuinely curious than ironic about painterly abstraction. If the strokes are taxonomic specimens to him, his careful redrawing of them is part of a larger investigation of order arising from cacophony –– or is it the other way around? Visually and psychologically, at any rate, the drawings suggest a reversal of causation, as if the rigorous geometry of Kandinsky’s Bauhaus paintings had been visited upon his earlier protoplasmic scrawls.
Glabicki calls his nine-drawing cycle the Relativity series, and here and there, culled from a thrift shop encyclopedia perhaps, are generic ideations of space-time such as event horizons and clocks and rods. Yet while the bulk of the drawings’ mass is loosely mathematical –– fishing-net lattices, old science texts in Latin –– it is a far cry from the elegant symmetries of the Special and General Theory. If anything, the drawings’ nebulous diffusion speaks of probability clouds and Quantum uncertainty, while the brushstrokes and other imagery (rabbits? Pennsylvania?) would seem to have little to do with physics of any kind. Still, according to the artist’s statement, all motifs accumulate in pairs of “relativistic” events: left/right, big/small, past/present, fact/fiction, and so on –– a Serialist compositional paradigm that suggests not so much Einstein as Einstein on the Beach.
When the Philip Glass opera premiered in 1976 –– that baroque, 5-hour “minimalist” extravaganza –– post-structuralist theory, as twisty as a Bernini column, ruled advanced art; we were lost in A Forest of Signs, according to the Baudrillardian title of a notable, if tail end, 1989 survey at LA MoCA. That show identified a new zeitgeist of information glut while the Internet was still a DARPA fantasy, gathering rising stars as far afield as Jenny Holzer, Matt Mullican, and Mike Kelly. By which time Glabicki, chaining himself to a drawing table, had made ten mysterious and lyrical animations, which for sheer hyper-saturation of sign and signifier exceeded any work of art from that linguistics-juiced era.
Diagram Film (1978) and Object Conversation (1985) are his best-known animations, but all of them challenge the eye with pulsating semiotic complexity. Glabicki achieved a rich, overlapping texture without computers, without video color keying, and without precursor film techniques such as cell animation, multiple exposure, or optical printing (the last being the luxuriant method of cinematic collagists Pat O’Neill and Bill Morrison). Rather, Glabicki simply used a light table to trace found or pre-drawn images, one after another, onto paper –– essentially the “printing” method of the Relativity Series. In the films, the elements might be moved incrementally from one drawing to the next according to templates. This would create, when the almost superhuman stacks of individual pages were filmed in sequence, the illusion of cycling arcs of movement. Otherwise, films and drawings use the light table to the same end –– to build up images in intersecting layers that resolve in unpredictable ways. In both bodies of work, Glabicki is apt to draw what should be first last, to mingle front with back and back with forth. In such a universe, solid assumptions become translucent, if not doubtful.
Glabicki’s works in film, drawing proper, and other mediums (he has, in fact, used computers, once collaborating on a sound/image “remix” with DJ Spooky, and making animated stereographic installations) are all distinguished by a rare structural delicacy, despite the anxiety induced by their rush of information. The films, especially, weave ravishing patterns. The American Film Institute is currently restoring these, a very high distinction, so good digital versions could soon be available. (It’s best to avoid the few blurry, unauthorized fragments posted on YouTube.) Meanwhile, the artist having come full circle, back to drawing in layers and series … might he be considering animatable sequences again?
If not, we must be content to explore the Relativity Series on its own terms, which are far from static. Blueprints of what could be time machines if designed by Alice Aycock; crazily magnetized fields of arrows that seem to gesture at the war games of Kim Jones; and occult figments and geometries that evoke fellow hybridists Bruce Conner and Harry Smith –– not to mention the stated subject of the series –– all point to Glabicki’s continued interest in time as a (non-Euclidean) dimension of drawing practice. Like Aycock, Glabicki is a disciplined fabulist; like Jones he is a canny outsider obsessive; and like Connor and Smith, the totality of Glabicki’s work may turn out to exemplify the spirit of its time –– “post-structural” or “post-modern,” choose your oxymoron –– better than the familiar canon.