The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2012

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JUNE 2012 Issue

SAM GORDON trompe l’oeil

On View
Feature Inc.
April 2 – May 26, 2012
New York

Sam Gordon’s trompe l’oeil, his seventh solo show at Feature, consists of a series of collage-like paintings that seem, when taken together, to reveal the artist’s heady, abstruse exploration of his own private language.

Sam Gordon, “Mirage,” 2010. Bleach, acrylic paint, spray paint, oxidized gold leaf, ink-jet iron-on transfer, PVA sizing on sewn clothes and canvas remnants, 52 x 52”. Courtesy of Feature Inc., New York.

Gordon’s paintings are assembled from remnants (of fabric, clothing, canvas) and, in some cases, from debris, which he has rigorously shaped into balanced, measured patterns. At a distance, the effect is irrefutably kaleidoscopic. A significant number of Gordon’s works, like “Flash (let the flash flash when the flash wants to flash)” (2010) or “Mirage” (2010), contain a brash focal point smack in the center of the canvas, from which radiate crisply painted or stitched lines and not-quite-symmetrical arrangements of precise geometric shapes. There is an apparent discipline required to wrangle what Gordon calls “sweepings”—agglomerations of pencil shavings, used matches, hair, paper bits, and mystery dust—into wee, neat triangles in a rather atypical take on a familiar quilt pattern. To encounter a material choice as varied and chaotic as these sweepings in the context of such meticulous arrangement and purposeful design begs the question of what Gordon is describing through this practice. Gordon’s economical use of text as an occasional collage element—pins emblazoned with slogans, art magazines, the artist’s own book—seems to emphasize the particular importance of these objects, which appear to be of personal significance to the artist. Such choices prompt the viewer to parse this body of work’s philosophical hierarchy: Are the specific shapes, the clothing fragments, and the painted, stitched, or bleached marks and gestures all of equal import to Gordon as the personal artifacts included here?

Visually similar to the printed Magic Eye pictures that people of my generation once found so fascinating, Gordon’s works induce an analogous effect through exposition. Staring slightly askance into the particulars of “Street Vendor” (2010), for example, the viewer could conjure an image of the artist as a spray paint-wielding art journal enthusiast in worn brown pants. A fuller picture emerges as one studies each painting—albeit a fuller picture primarily of Gordon’s sartorial leanings, as so many of the canvases have been assembled from deconstructed and fastidiously transfigured jeans, bandanas, and plaid shirts. Gordon integrates the differentia of these garments as the building blocks of his formal elements. Rows of buttons aligned down a shirt mirror parallel lines in paint; pant pockets serve as heavy focal points; waistbands, zippers, and belt loops form abstracted, three-dimensional linear patterns. In this pulsing, painstaking work, Gordon reduces each incorporated object to a design component, yet each item retains its identifiable nature, creating a tension not often present in paintings made with traditional art-making materials.

So what is Gordon’s language, and what is being said? Some messages here are universal, familiar to anyone who wears clothing. Yet some shapes seem chosen purely to create a more aesthetically pleasing totem, and some combinations of text and fabric seem so personal as nearly to impede the viewer’s scrutiny. The ultimate result is the emergence from the canvas of a sort of abstract, rather ambiguous self-portrait of Gordon. Indefinite clues point toward his ability to create a well-controlled chaos and toward his intense affinity for material experimentation. And we know he likes plaid.

131 Allen Street // New York, NY


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2012

All Issues