New York

James Dearing

James Dearing, in his new paintings, is found tampering with the categorical incompatibility of line and color, despite an otherwise orthodox-looking commitment to the traditional format, means, and scope of painting. Here line and color invade and undermine one another as sedate planes of color are traversed by deep-colored horizontal lines. Dearing deals with rectilinear form and with pleasurable expanses of rather creamy color, but the way his large rectangles of color seem to have palpable edges instead of purely graphic limits, or the way areas are flat yet somehow pliably resilient—such contradictions are not easily resolved.

Typically, the canvas has an emphatic vertical break, dividing the composition into unequal (somewhat kinesthetically suggestive) left and right sides. Already, however, we are up against an ambiguity, since these main divisions are less like simple planar compartments within a rectilinear arabesque than more or less flush physical abutments, suggesting only the shallowest real protrusions or overlaps. We might be looking at thin sliding screens of some kind, being shifted only to reveal further screens. Yet if even the thinness of screens implies some real overlap, here the spatial shift invoked is so definitively shallow as to be, to all intents and purposes, flat—as with the visually insignificant depth differences of veneers, or color layers in the art of cameo. The consequence for Dearing’s painting of this “overlap” with virtually no thickness is that what otherwise would be simply a vertical line separating two color areas within the more geometrically complete rectangle of the stretcher, becomes instead a veritable edge within that rectangle, much more on an artistic par with the canvas edge as a line and forming, together with the real edges, the only complete rectangles contained by the framing edge. When short and thick, or long and thin, colored horizontal lines fuse onto such a dividing line from one end, they thus do so in direct analogy with similar lines fused onto the canvas edge. Whichever edge situation these lines belong to (real, external; veritable, internal) they are, consequently, scrupulously equalized in effect. This tends all the more to lock the shifting color planes in pictorial planarity.

Dearing’s compositions look misleadingly like De Stijl, especially in black-and-white reproduction. They really only relate to late, eccentric De Stijl offshoots, particularly on grounds of the distinctly nonprimary colors. It would also not be difficult to see the spaced parallel, edge-bound stripes of dark, condensed color in Dearing’s paintings in the light of 1930s ornament—say, radio sets with parallel bands turning the corners. These paintings, however, are more serious than that, mainly in those shifts of color and line that prohibit the composition from collapsing into the kind of mere flatness that would have seemed no more than “decoratively” flat to genuine De Stijl. It is in their veritable flatness of design that Dearing’s pictures cleverly answer the ever-problematic veritable spatiality of color.

Joseph Masheck