New York

Jerry Buchanan

Michael Walls Gallery

For his first New York exhibition, Jerry Buchanan showed paintings from the last five years. Pleasantly enough, the most recent work is more interesting. Buchanan’s earlier work is self-consciously eclectic; pictorial conventions and styles are subsumed within a technique so facile it is ultimately cloying. Buchanan plays around with various contradictions between the image and the frame. Each is, variously, pictorial space, flat surface, decorative surface, carpentry, craft, you name it. Thus Buchanan paints Basement, a small landscape in the style of Cézanne, and paints the wide frame around it to resemble linoleum which, ironically, also evokes Cézanne. In Relic I, the central “image,” inside a weatherworn frame, is a diagonal arrangement of twigs, refined sans bark. In Atlantis the center is deep, mysterious blue green, opaque in the style of Marden or Berthot, while the surrounding frame is lovingly, spatially worked up in pale, translucent scumbles of yellows and blues. These paintings are all intimate, about 30 inches square; they are beautifully, sweetly made and spell out their pictorial contradictions in exquisite taste. But these pictorial contradictions aren’t anything new; we all know how to read them. What’s unique is Buchanan’s sentimental attitude toward both paintings and objects and toward the making of them. It is the strongest characteristic, a thick syrupy feeling which coats the earlier work and makes it all seem, nostalgically, the same.

Buchanan’s more recent work suffers from this sentimental treatment of materials; it seems more involved with seeing, rather than reading. These paintings are white wooden circles and ellipses which are painted on sparsely, on the front of the inner or outer rim. In one, the spokes of a wheel are faintly seen through a scrim of muslin. I’m not convinced by these pieces, but they are more honest, both as paintings and as objects, and seem like a step in the right direction.

Roberta Smith