New York

Cynthia Carlson

Hundred Acres Gallery

Cynthia Carlson has been tagged as part of the “thick paint” gang, but the ongoing drama in her work is best described by the title of a recent Joan Snyder painting: Mom’s Just Out There Tryin’ to Break That Grid. Carlson, Snyder, and others like Jennifer Bartlett, Arlene Slavin and Miriam Schapiro are all trying to get away from the grip of the grid, inventing ways to subvert or dissolve it. Snyder runs over the grid with painterly gesture. Bartlett uses it in extremis so as to make it a joke, and all the while she’s filling it in with an inventory of pictorial images, making the content more important than the form. Slavin breaks the grid apart into a hundred different shifting combinations of irregular forms that break the hegemony of the grid’s authority. Schapiro cuts it up like a garment, scrambles it together with other material, and it comes up as feminist statement. The first basic step for all was to fill in the grid with neutrality-destroying content, minimizing the primacy of the empty form. The point is to treat the grid as irrelevant. Yet that has been difficult to do.

One of Carlson’s strategies is to cover the grid with thick paint, to obscure it; but now it is her “filling,” the things inside the grid, that are taking over. Once she introduced a panoply of signs inside the grid, they struggled to break out, like a child who insistently colors outside of the lines in a coloring book.

A painting like Short Job offers a tentative solution to this problem. The grids are so near extinction that Carlson has to “sew” them back together with-thick strips of paint. Inside each grid is a tipped, irregularly formed rectangle with some kind of a sign inside it, ready to fly out of its boundary. The inner rectangles are also kept together with strips of paint, but they are made up of dotted lines, so their security is under question from the start. All the funny dots and squiggles look ready to burst out.

In the installation downstairs, the ripples of paint broke out of the grid, covering the walls themselves. This had almost happened when Carlson began to shape her canvases with highly dramatic, sharp edges. Now that the thick strips of paint have been freed, they stick leisurely along the wall, widely spaced and unconcerned with overall pattern. The wall is covered with these taffy criss-crossed units, like wallpaper. Although from a distance there was a (strongly diagonal) pattern, when viewed close up, there was no immediate systematic arrangement. The units were very passive gray and yellow on light gray walls, and the organization dissolved into individual units by this rather bland coloring.

Carlson’s color has always been difficult to pin down. A while ago she was working with (what I thought was) a quite original array in the vicinity of gray/red/yellow (as in The Brat, 1974). But she has gone over to bile greens and dark grays and ochres—just about anything resembling animal innards. It’s not very appealing, but has vitality and a reverse-ingratiating effect on me.

The trophylike works which hung over the entrance were formed into rows of paint, one on top of the other, getting shorter as they approached the top, making them triangular. The color and texture was like the multi-colored drips of those candles that conceal different colors until they melt in hundreds of layers of waxy build-up. Some of these trophies showed up in the gallery window, like displays of baked goods. The paint on the canvases, on the wall, and on the trophies looked as if it had been squeezed from pastry tubes, and much of the stuff appeared as icing on a cake. The pun in all this is that I think I smell something cooking.

Jeff Perrone