Critics’ Picks

Stephen Lapthisophon, Spiral, 2010, ink, latex, spray paint, coffee on paper, 48 x 34 1/2”.

Stephen Lapthisophon, Spiral, 2010, ink, latex, spray paint, coffee on paper, 48 x 34 1/2”.


Stephen Lapthisophon

Conduit Gallery
1626 C Hi Line Drive
January 8–February 12, 2011

“Spelling Lesson,” Stephen Lapthisophon’s latest exhibition of readymades and mixed-media works on paper, is a study in antinomies of the structural and the somatic. Spelling can serve as a figure for any code that invisibly regulates patterns of expression; lessons can be the disciplinary exercises that enable and govern one’s entry into the world of social interactions. Here one may spot an understandable ambivalence about such codes and exercises. Works such as From 1655, 2010, focus on the artist’s signature, sometimes written backward, or splitting up into pseudoletterforms as it degrades from a word into a mere mark. Other quasi words similarly melt into dribbles, drops, and smears.

If we accept that language is the medium that allows for reflective thought, we can also interpret “Spelling Lesson” as a study in what happens when that medium is by turns activated, withdrawn, and replaced with nonverbal substitutes (here fashion and cooking). Fashion uses the body as an image, at the expense of both felt experience and verbal thought, as in the work YSL/SL, 2011, a collaboration with Kristin Mariani; this is a deconstructed Mondrianesque sleeveless tunic in canvas, tape, paint, thread, and marker. Cooking, like painting, entails the virtuosic manipulation of media for aesthetic satisfaction but is cut off from verbal reflection (it’s hard to talk with a full mouth). In the show, the cuisine metaphor is suggested not only by the presence of a chalkboard menu, stacks of plates, and a row of bulbous root vegetables, but also by the artful use of such media as pigmented bacon fat, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Spiral, 2010, takes full advantage of organic matter’s propensity to lower itself toward a state of formlessness, as its coffee stains sink into and spread across the paper.