Paula Cooper Gallery February 22 – March 29, 2008
Paintings by Dan Walsh at Paula Cooper Gallery summon several monumental streams of late twentieth century painting—color field, geometric abstraction, and even the less monumental Op—to the side of an artist who somehow eludes categorization. The works are comprised of regular lines, grids or squares repeated in near-perfect regularity; near-perfect because Walsh paints without the use of tape or projectors, and the almost invisible irregularity of his “hand” gives the work its stamp, a kind of subliminal vitality. There is a subtle sense of physical interference between artist and painting, the attempt to make something perfect mediated by the imperfectability of the human organ.
But at the same time that Walsh seems to be pursuing perfection, he consciously calls into play the irregularity of geometric folk art, not least in his use of a slight asymmetry to the otherwise uniform series of shapes; in Auditorium, for example, the band of lines that circumscribes a series of squares-within-squares is a bit wider at the top than at the bottom. Auditorium particularly calls to mind pottery, its semi-translucent white lines resembling a glaze laid over a reddish-brown background. Walsh’s paint tends to be somewhat thin, allowing him to build glowing surfaces made up of two or three layers of color. The parallel to Op art comes in the shimmering quality that some of the paintings attain by the alternation of colored lines, or the mass of cross-hatching coalescing from a distance into a luminous field. It is here again that Walsh’s painting by hand gives the works their particular feel, using the slight irregularity as an optical effect in itself, softer and fuzzier than a Bridget Riley Op painting, but more aggressively illusionistic than, say, a Rothko.
The works gain depth from the many layers of abstraction they reference and unite through a process that simultaneously feels like a personal investigation. There is a quietistic quality to many of them, in that endless, meditative repetition of lines; others feel starker or more alienated, as with Statement, a simple grid of black lines that looks somehow digital. Auditorium, though it strongly recalls southwestern Native American art, also refers to a place where individuals become a crowd, its square motif turning into rows of identical seats. Walsh’s process is to go deeper and deeper into a vocabulary he has set out, pushing the range of reference, exploring the interior possibilities of meaning and visual affect. As an artist he himself seems to slip among the lines, continually disappearing from view and then reappearing, both coy and very serious.