Art Forum February 2013 page 246
Art Forum February 2013 page. 246
NANCY HOFFMAN GALLERY
Rupert Deeseâ€™s self-described â€œpainted structuresâ€â€”there were a dozen
in this exhibitionâ€”could be regarded as versions of what Lawrence Alloway
termed â€œsystemic painting,â€ or, as it has sometimes been called,
â€œpattern painting.â€ Yet the appearance of a pattern is only an illusion.
To create each work, Deese made a mold based on the elevations represented
in a topographical map. Then he arranged triangular tiles on top
of the mold, building a structure whose surface approximates features
of the landscape, its peaks and valleys. This faceted ground is painted
a single, unmodulated color, yet as light and shadow play across the
angled structure, the tiles appear to vary in tone, ranging from dark to
nearly white. Across a painting, these differences create a sort of quivering
effect, a gentle quirkiness artfully emerging from a strictly regular
framework. Though cut off at the paintingsâ€™ edges, the triangular motif
seems to continue beyond them, infinitely.
Although Deeseâ€™s paintings look like allover geometric abstractions,
their titles give the meaning away. A tondo was titled Merced and
Tuolumne, 1996, after a river in Californiaâ€™s Stanislaus National Forest.
The other paintings on view here (all are rectangles, with the exception
of one parallelogram) were titled after Californiaâ€™s Kern River Valley.
Thus, Deese is a landscape painter, but with a difference. He is less
interested in representing the â€œrocks, water, flora, and skyâ€â€”I am quoting
himâ€”than he is in finding an abstract correlative for their â€œshapes,
colors, rhythms, and patterns.â€ Does one dark-brown painting refer to
one of the three mountain rangesâ€”the Greenhorn, Piute, and Scodieâ€”
that surround the valley? Do the â€œflowingâ€ surfaces suggest Lake
Isabella? Deese factors in the â€œtime . . . gazing at a scene works . . .
simultaneously complete and changing.â€ He succeeds: The patterns
seem at once fixed and mutable, the wavering color conveying natureâ€™s
flux. Many of the paintings are oil on wood, meaning that the depicted
environmentâ€”the forestâ€”is their â€œfoundation.â€
The uneven surfaces convey a general impression of the terrain
Deese was looking at, but they also suggest the roughness of the ground
underfoot. He offers the sense of looking down from a height and simultaneously
being very close to the surface; he wants us to walk the
terrain with our eyes.
The paintings in this show are beautiful, by which I mean that,
despite their eccentricity, they are harmonious. In the nineteenth century,
American landscape painting began, with the rest of the country,
to â€œgo West,â€ finally reaching the golden state of California. Deeseâ€™s
paintings suggest the alluring luster of that mythical destination, but
depict it as a pristine abstractionâ€”a sort of â€œsensationalâ€ idea.