New York

Michael Economos

Warren Benedek Gallery

In his Realist paintings of crushed cans lying in long grass, Michael Economos reanimates the can as an image with a nod to Andy Warhol’s 1962 torn and damaged Campbell’s cans. But whereas Warhol’s garbage is raw, and his cans ripped by human agency, Economos’ have been turned over to nature, and their rusted surfaces reveal the passage of time. 

One painting sets up the show in a loosely cartographic way: a long aerial view of a Budweiser can lying at the end of a mud promontory which juts into a shallow stream with a grassy bank. In a corner of the work, a folded brown form appears which is apparently repeated in the adjoining painting. Economos doesn’t repeat forms again, but this initial instance seems to imply a common locale for the rest of the paintings, and makes the exhibition a coherent whole. The single, long view—the rest of the cans are painted quite close-up—also effects a coincidence of the genres landscape and still life, giving the artist a broader base from which to mine meaning for his images. 

The cans lie shrouded in matted blades of grass that move naturally beyond the edge in a simulacrum of the Abstract Expressionist expanding field. Crushed edge-hugging shapes suspended in a dense field is the abstract theme worked here; but for all its density, it is the field, not the shapes, that make space. Tiny curls of depth form near the edges of the flatly rendered cans, and some blades of grass cast shadows to intimate a space above them. In this Realism, the human artifacts depend for their “real” existence not only upon the sketchy site context, but also upon the space revealed by the arbitrary free play of natural forms. 

Economos’ show reads as a double variation on the time-honored theme of vanitas. The close-up characterization of both can and grass, and the cartographic siting of these human relics make microcosms of Economos’ images—tiny versions of the ruin overgrown. The formalist dialectic of Pop image strangled in a pseudo allover makes commentary on the passing of artistic styles. Economos’ show is a finely tuned Baroque statement (and his brushwork is “painterly” to boot)—just as cans and grass unite in the passage of time, so artistic styles, like all the things of humanity, decompose into our cultural compost. 

Alan Moore