Critics’ Picks

Ken Okiishi, Gesture/data, 2014, flat-screen television, oil paint and VHS transferred to .mp4, color, sound, 36 3/8 x 21 3/8 x 4 3/4".

New York

Ken Okiishi

Reena Spaulings Fine Art | New York
165 East Broadway 2nd Floor
February 17 - March 23

For his debut at this gallery, Ken Okiishi has painted brushy abstractions over the surfaces of eleven high-definition flat-screen monitors. The Samsung screens have been rotated ninety degrees and mounted on the walls; on each, recordings of television broadcasts play in loops, tinted and obscured by Okiishi’s energetic paintings. The videos deliver glimpses of a bygone era of television: a smiling Barbara Bush, or the endlessly scrolling listings and cosmetics ads of the TV Guide Network. Staticky passages, a result of degraded VHS source tapes, interrupt and abstract the footage, intertwining with the streaky and often translucent paint scattered overtop. The paint of choice is primarily Olio HD, a recently released line of thirty oil colors by the Italian paint manufacturer Maimeri that was inspired by hues produced by backlit images on digital screens (names include “Hacker Black” and “Reset Green”).

The paint marks both obscure and respond to the onscreen movement and partly for this reason, the objects need to be considered individually, and in-person: Though predicated on digital-screen technology, these artworks don’t translate easily into .jpegs. Throughout this exhibition the weightiness of the history of painting (the press release points out references in Okiishi’s facture all the way from Monet to AbEx) is joined with the fleeting contemporariness of the HD monitor in an unstable bond. What will these objects look like next season? In ten years?

For a precedent to this kind of mash-up of gestural painting and time-based media, one might turn to Rauschenberg, who memorably concealed three live radios beneath the surface of the Combine painting Broadcast, 1959. When the radios were first switched on in the studio, “the painting went dead,” Rauschenberg recalled—the liveliness of the sound had made the painting feel static by comparison. The opposite is true of Okiishi’s screens, where the looped recordings over-stimulate the paint splayed on top: The greasy brushwork, which jerks back and forth horizontally across the plastic exteriors, twisting in and out of opacity, stroked and strobed by the video underneath, feels ill at ease in foreign quarters, but definitely not dead.