Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sign on the Dotted Line: Signature Paintings by Todd Kelly

[“Signature Painting” (2011), oil & acrylic on canvas. “Untitled (Tree Painting)” (2011), oil, acrylic & collage on canvas. “Quilt Painting” (2011), oil on canvas.]

A number of elements converge and coalesce in the works of Todd Kelly: “Signature Paintings,” a show of his recent work is up at Asya Geisberg Gallery through June 18, 2011. In Kelly’s avalanche of experimentation, this Michigan native uses his name as a springboard in manipulating its letters as a compositional structure—whether as an exaggerated logo, a half-buried talisman, or entity altered beyond recognition. Imagination, momentary inspiration, present consciousness, and serendipity sustain his work—with Kelly firmly, if naively, believing that painting can make the world a better place.

In “Scrim Painting I”—with its finely nuanced gradients of pinks and zigzag of diagonal lines covering all but the top edge of the painting—the resultant pattern is a geometric extension of the veil. However, while the veil both covers and beckons with its seduction by suggestion, its lines also call to mind a hard-edged grated fence. Coursing underneath are lush jabs of paint, insouciant dots of spray paint, and washes of color. Buried deepest is the negative space of the artist’s initials – a whisper compared to the manic activity on top. Ultimately, the ego is meditatively erased as Kelly’s signature becomes a faint echo.

In “Untitled (Leaves),” actual leaves have been adhered to the canvas, as if to point out the old adage about “seeing the forest for the trees.” A splotchy pink layer rests on top of its precise fine lines—as if a drunken rock star had lost control in an elegant hotel room. “Untitled (Leaves)” are what one sees midway through a crash and burn: starched linens unfurling, sconces still intact, and ashtrays overflowing. Hours of detailed work are required to beget lines of equal length and distance, while quasi-scientific concern for color competes with a Dionysian expression of id. As the artist remarks, “the eye switches back and forth between illusions deciding which to land on.”

Inspired by nonhierarchical approaches to art history and diverse sources such as architecture, graffiti, and graphic design, Kelly takes viewers on an odyssey through modes of abstraction—engaging paintings’ physical and philosophical spaces. In this particular show (and in his paintings generally), Kelly provokes viewers in pondering creative mechanisms behind his work. Layers of brushwork, drips, spray paint, stencil, and collaged elements culminate with a surface of parallel dotted lines. Large areas of paint sometimes cover painstakingly applied marks as expressionistic flourishes vanquish control. Delicate uniform marks form a pattern within the Kelly’s “astral” plane and culminate in an overarching “signature.”

Kelly’s work has been exhibited in such venues as the National Portrait Gallery (London), Seven Seven Contemporary (London), “Artforum,” and the Jerwood Painters Exhibition.

Signature Paintings
Through June 18, 2011
537B West 23rd Street, NYC 10011