Los Angeles

Jim DeFrance

Nicholas Wilder Gallery

Shimmer is the temptress of Jim DeFrance’s new work, and a dazzling surface unsettles his high constructivist intentions. Pale fields of opalescence with a glacial pink here and a pistachio glimmer there, DeFrance’s outsize flaps of stiffened (but unstretched) burlap get their icy gleam from light plus gloss—that is, from ordinary gallery illumination bouncing off the slick exterior of several layers of rolled-on, pastel-flavored acrylic. The color of these works can be as chilly as an arctic morning, as evasive as Bigfoot. Up close the slippery paint surface is undone—transformed into a flux of fickle colors, a river of pinks, blues, purples, yellows, and greens, dissolving and resolving, moving irregularly over the reflective ridges of a textured ground. But from a distance the strands of pale tints twist up again and dominant colors emerge. Some of the six exhibited paintings then read as luminescent zones of pinkish yellow; one is the algid color of unwarmed flesh; another melts, almost, into a glistening field of bruised green. It is the type of siren surface that teases and rebuffs, the kind of unendearing color that finally piques one into an irritated gesture of approval.

DeFrance’s ascetic compositional structure is less authoritative, less beguiling. He harks back in these new works to his own earlier horizontally slotted, rear-glow paintings. Now, however, he excises slanty rhomboids. He also works with oblique lines of the kind that resemble a watered-down Albers space drawing, unemphatically but precisely scoring the picture plane with zig-zagging, conjoined diagonals. The shapes established by these linear demarcations are sporadically reinforced by a second layer of burlap; the effect is low-level relief, neat and unobtrusive, a wistful glance at three-dimensionality. Since these large works are tacked up informally on the gallery wall, and since the burlap is inclined to buckle, there is a play of shadows in the interior and at the painting’s edge—a complement to the dancing lights above, and a tip of the hat to the California soft look. The wall background exposed by the cut-outs is meant, I assume, to be colonized into the composition, and, in fact, these bland parallelograms are more chez eux in the austere simplicity of DeFrance’s geometric structure than is his own restless, light-emitting paint surface.

Indeed, an unresolved antagonism between surface and structure may be the chief flaw of these attractive paintings. I don’t mean to suggest that sensuosity and geometry cannot coexist—think of the flamboyant burnish of some of David Smith’s Cubi sculptures—but that a problem arises when the battle is egregiously one-sided and surface effects dominate. Within the limited terms established by DeFrance’s work, the brash assertion of his pictorial surface is supreme; it has enough distractive power to make applied design out of his weakly stated structure, enough priority to make that structure seem peremptory and inessential. What DeFrance’s geometry requires is strength, the muscle of inevitability.

––Nancy Marmer