Los Angeles

Ron Cooper

ACE Gallery

It’s taken longer than it should have for Ron Cooper’s work to be shown, not piecemeal in gallery back rooms or in a Plastic Group show context, but on its own. Cooper has worked well and long enough now to merit serious attention—the problem with him is perhaps that the odd retreatingness and quiescence of his art make it seem at first unevolved, rather maddeningly bland, or not satisfyingly stylistic. One doesn’t easily see what’s there. Coming into his present one-man show at the Ace Gallery, for example, I was at first left rather cold by the mildness of its appearance. The four box-like paintings here (each measures 7’4” x 7’4”) are perceptibly higher in color saturation than those I saw several months ago in his studio, which were nearly invisible, but still they are thin and watery in character. Like the former series, the edges of these are left in a slightly ragged state where the fiberglass and resin armature has been broken out of a larger mold. The problem of lighting the works ideally is unusually difficult—since the resinous surfaces are so distractingly susceptible to reflected light, the viewer must maneuver into just the right position to contemplate each piece unmarred by interfering configurations.

What Cooper is doing on an experimental level is to investigate the changing effects of chromaticism as pigments are superimposed in variously ordered layers on a translucent surface. He uses three layers of polyester resin transparent pigment in each painting—violet, amber and green in hue, respectively—rolling them onto the rear face of the plastic sheet fairly evenly. Obviously a work in which the green layer is applied first, and is thus outermost as one faces it, appears predominantly green though it is also significantly modified by the harmonizing rear layers. Certain residual irregularities (all-over mottling or vague streaks) occur unavoidably in the process of rolling on the wet substance in a crisscross fashion. But rather than attempting to avoid these textural disturbances altogether, the artist has chosen to allow them to function secondarily as an enriching factor, even soliciting an effect of shallow stippling in the piece here which is predominantly greenish by applying the first color layer when the base resin was still wet, thus causing the pigment to sink into its bed in uneven pockets.

The more one watches the paintings, the more one prefers those which are the least inflected and subtlest in hue. For me, the most beautiful is the one whose frontal tonality seems to be amber; it is of a warm, yellowish cast but conditioned by shifting passages of violet. Finally, and redeemingly, the awareness of explication about the absorption, reflection, diffusion and refraction of light—all of which phenomena are ingeniously demonstrated by Cooper’s technique—is not what matters above all for our esthetic response to these paintings. There is a distinctly emotive and expressionistic aura about the works, in part because they are modestly flawed. The vague disfigurements of surface and edge are somehow moving; they reveal—not the taste of the artist but a diligently matured sensibility. One doesn’t, admittedly, respond with great excitement to this work, but in a perhaps qualified and discreet sense it should elicit considerable pleasure and admiration.

Jane Livingston