The Hermetic and the Everyday: Dan Walsh at Paula Cooper
Dan Walsh at Paula Cooper Gallery
January 5 to February 4, 2017
521 West 21st Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, paulacoopergallery.com
Can technical doggedness produce compelling art? In his current show of new work, Dan Walsh has found a way to do just that.
The paintings, especially, feel like they have arrived, achieving equilibrium of plan and craft. The visual image is the hook for all this, as Walsh has relaxed his previously familiar pictorial strictures to allow for a variety of approaches to a basic scheme: vertically oriented, broad bands diminishing in width as they increase in number. A unit so generic, the band does not illustrate anything but itself.
The warrant for Walsh’s artistic approach goes back sixty years to when representation of the already seen world veered away from abstraction evocative of symbolic ideas, to flaunted signage. For this purpose, the artist’s hand—synecdoche to expressive individuality—became instrumentally neutral. Materials and techniques of a derivative nature rose to take charge of received ideas, the vernacular, and the domain of transmitted information. Flash forward to early canvases done by Walsh in the 1990s. These were derived from graphic reductions of fireplaces or boxed archives, motifs no longer endowed with tectonic structure and practical function of workable things in the world but functioning instead as deliberately affectless demarcations of the surface of the picture plane. Thus transcribed, the graphical lines were a curious amalgam of the literal and the arbitrary, for which imagination was entirely beside the point, effecting a metamorphosis and synthesis of processes that abstract painters of the New York School had presupposed went unnoticed. From this inflection of formulaic transposed mark-making came something other than the well composed, finely attuned image but lifted from the already seen—although overlooked—everyday idiom. This is the opposite of the truth urged by Hans Hofmann, when, as a modernist, he said that as soon as a mark is made on a canvas, a composition is in force.
The current exhibition does execute diminishing series often enough to raise expectations of pattern making; but otherwise, also at odds with itself, it shows eccentricities not so predictable. Color schemes in some works are of good-taste favorites—taffy beige or baby blue—but do not read as decoratively pleasant either owing to an amusing reverb effect or to a brightly plangent counterpoint in the interstices. Seen up close, variables in brushy paint handling that integrate formal and optical matter are done well–this, without bending the rule of consistency so as to interrupt the surface as a whole. So at the least, Walsh is calibrating his neutrality. And at the most, he is attaining to the mastery in technique that allows for a kind of elasticity of moves within the methodical technique he swears by. To this end his Klimt Book has its own kind of perfection worth noting. To this end the exhibited copy of his Klimt Book has its own kind of perfection worth noting. Open to a double-page spread the book renders a succession of ellipses waxing and waning as though through the passing day into night—suspending a fanatic’s dream of micro-optical gradation in sequence through the digitally printed mica-inflected inkjet and silkscreen.
What’s curious is the contrast between the hermetic and everyday ingredients comprising the image: each set of four ellipses-within-squares is placed within a kind of rustic crate more in the style of Richard Artschwager than anything that might be found in an ebonized dining environment of the Secession architect Josef Hoffmann, whose Palais Stoclet, in Brussels, houses the Klimt Frieze that inspired Walsh’s book project in the first place.