Spinning Out a Readymade: Peter Fox at Front Room Gallery
Peter Fox: Blind Trust at Front Room Gallery
May 22 to June 21, 2015
147 Roebling Street (between Hope and Metropolitan)
Brooklyn, 718 782 2556
Long guided by a circumspect approach to unfurling his intuition, Peter Fox shows his vulnerability in the suite of paintings on display through June 21st at the Front Room Gallery in Williamsburg. Since December last year, the artist has maintained white spaces on his canvases. The “blank” areas develop between the prodigiously varied effects he produces by extruding bundled stripes of semi-liquid, matte, acrylic paint, which are then left to slide partway down the clean surface. The melting ribbons of clear, bright color-groups represent hypothetical nations or advertise various emotional states. Owing to the addition of more water to thin the texture of the paint in the new works, the striped bands alternately shrink to thin vacillating lines or abruptly spread out like broad waving flags. Overall, the dripping striations look like spooky, alien forms of calligraphy and gestures from a private dance. The resulting erratic negative spaces sing the strange, knotted song of Fox’s new freedom.
These paintings are a far cry from the prior hypnotic, yet rigidly composed color spectrum paintings Fox produced in the same way, though with the use of a thicker gel medium that choked the paint’s flow. For the last decade Fox has centered his work on mastering a form of readymade technique: the drip. According to the artist, he perfected rendering the “world of the drip” after years of experimentation with a large, squeezable, syringe-like tool; Fox succeeded in becoming a virtuoso at controlling the chaos of oozing paint as he formed frozen showers of candy-colored drops. Without completely leaving behind his adherence to hands-off practices such as painting without touching a brush or letting his colors mix automatically inside a plastic tube, Fox takes a breath here and jumps into the open air. Rather than restrict himself to merely employing the physiology of the paint and its relation to gravity, he shows his hand, its gesture and the movement of his body. The results look like he is using a form of automatic application to indicate it’s harder not to acknowledge the range of emotions that come with risking direct, intimate contact.
The transitional nature of the artworks in “Blind Trust” may have left the show susceptible to old installation habits for the gallery and the artist. The density of paint and color in his prior pieces made them more self-contained: the context for each artwork had less impact on it’s viewing. The difference between the way the work is shown in the gallery’s two rooms points to the importance of fully recognizing its current porous identity which bridges beyond the edge of the stretcher. The first room in the show is dominated by a sampling of Fox’s fluid technique across small works presented in a large grid. This dense, regimented arrangement diminishes the thrill of the new responsiveness in Fox’s paintings and works against the hard-won stance of the show. The other structural clutter in the room — a display platform and reception desk — adds to the distraction. The spare installation of four larger paintings in the second, more cloistered room clarifies Fox’s broadened scope. The most gratifying piece in the show is also the largest: HERALDIC (2015), spanning over nine feet. It is the lone anchor of the space’s long far wall and mesmerizes with the possibilities of paint Fox has realized on its surface. The tailored installation in this room allows for a fuller appreciation of the extent to which the artist has revealed himself within the new body of work. In a final twist, however, the inevitable downward pull of the paint’s physical weight that Fox leaves unchecked across all the paintings in “Blind Trust” could be read as trumping his, or anyone’s, self-liberating strivings.