Los Angeles

Los Angeles

A very nice group of new paintings by Joe Goode are hung exceptionally low to the ground at Nicholas Wilder. The works show Goode to have returned wholeheartedly to a full and subtle palette after a rather prolonged predominantly black, white and grey period; the present canvases are really color paintings, with the imagery (mostly fragments of sheets and pillows, like the ones seen here last year in drawing form) superposed abruptly on inflected fields of oil paint. There is no point in laboring a comparison of his milk bottles, houses, spoons, or clouds with the sheet/pillows; all are basically devices of the moment, employed to different, but, seen in another way, quite similar effect. However, his renderings of shadowy, crisp white cloth against softly banded and wisped color grounds, unlike the other icon-object paintings, have the highly peculiar power of suggesting sleep, physically. This is all the more unexpected because Goode’s work has always seemed so reluctant; contrary to reveling in the free manipulation of paint, and to inviting the spectator to vicariously enjoy its processual experience, it generally holds one at a taut distance. The shyness, and the oddly retentive quality that helps to make him so singular and occasionally moving an artist is still present in these recent works, but there is this new ability to engage the viewer in something like a reverie of drifting, spacious and drowsy sensation.

Actually this quality is not evident in all of the 5 by 5-foot canvases (some, specifically the royal blue and ochre versions, which I believe are the earliest of this selection, are preeminently flat and inhibited), but in several the combination of expanses of heavy, rich color (respectively brownish-rose, deep turquoise and rose, and chartreuse-yellow) with the eccentrically shaped patches depicting turned-back coverlet and shadowy pillow creates a remarkably ethereal and involving ambience. It must be emphasized that this feeling—whatever it is—is not overt or slick; the effect is not clearly sought, but seems to emerge in spite of the works’ unpretentiousness and “ordinariness.” Whether or not it finally enhances their quality, that the paintings’ subject matter happens to actually induce a corresponding sensuous aura, is uncertain, because that level of response is separate from one’s seeing them coldly.

From the latter point of view, the key work in this group—a triptych of 5 by 5-foot canvases hung side by side—is the most extraordinary and impressively resolved of them all. Here his increased competence in handling color, as well as a new smoothness of facture, are beautifully evident. The left panel is in deep aqua tones, the middle is greyish-mauve and the right-hand section is a brown-rose color shot through with a yellowish cast. To the bottom right of the center canvas and extending across into the bottom left of the far right segment, Goode has painted a diaphanous, airy shape, in white, like a torn handkerchief, with the crisp edges forming a lively and erratic pattern. The surface quality, especially of the turquoise and central panels, relates to Goode’s earlier cloud paintings in their evocation of sky; their atmospheric depth and creamy, modulated surfaces distinguish the triptych considerably from any previous canvases I’ve seen. Perhaps because one has become accustomed recently to seeing acrylics employed for abstract, coloristic painting, the comparatively subdued and viscous character of oil paint in these works gives them a surprisingly distinctive and satisfying look. I like Goode’s work more after having seen the present exhibition than I did before, and I understand it better.

Ceramics and cast metal objects by James Melchert are shown at Gallery 669. The major pieces are tables, one very large with a black formica surface, another of dark Plexiglas in three layers, with various objets d’art—cups, hands, a pair of miniature metal breasts, the number 2, white ceramic discs with words inscribed on them (“She knows”); coat hangers, etc. There are three ashtray works and a number of medium-sized, plinth-like ones with perhaps a cup, or an upside down cup with the word “listen”; or some still-life plaster ones with, for example, a piece of folded cloth and a serrated gourd (this one I like for its chalky detail and off-hand “tastefulness”). Obviously the intention here is largely whimsical; the “hand-sized accessory” is a hand, or a hand on a cup, or simply the cup; each item takes on a self-centered preciousness, existing casually and yet with the utmost sense of spurious “valuableness.”

Jane Livingston