New York

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe’s new paintings have dropped their previous affinities with Bochner and Rockburne and place all their chips on Mardenesque reductive abstraction. The symptoms are easily detected: square panels arranged in grids. One panel, one color. Grid empty of everything save color. No marking. No image. No painterliness. All deadpan, flat handling. Tasteful, arbitrary color. Here, color includes the latest Marden-inspired “shocking” juxtaposition of complementaries along with the de rigueur dark, dark greens and grays mingling with not-quite whites. We’ve seen it a thousand times.

The best work is called Baltic Signal. It is a small, four-part painting with very dark, subdued purples. (Perhaps “Baltic” is a reference to a certain property in “Monopoly” which is identified by a dark purple bar.) That I find myself choosing the “best” one suggests a lot about the level of engagement. And I doubt that I’m being idiosyncratic in my response. One either likes a certain set of irrational colors or one does not; here there is no room for a validating experience outside of personal taste. Appreciating or understanding the “look” of Gilbert-Rolfe’s paintings is an acquired taste, of course, and I’m not saying that taste is necessarily bad. However, the overexposed formal aspects of his work have but one reading, which can be summarized as the bland leading the bland. Source mongering (or, more politely, historical consciousness) becomes the singular approach. The art meanings apply only to the artifacts themselves. They do not refer back to Gilbert-Rolfe and they do not speak to the audience.

Compared to the new developments in abstraction, Gilbert-Rolfe comes up repetitive and reactionary. Abstract painters today must have some inkling of consciousness about the inherent decorativeness of abstraction and what I see as the impossibility of transcending the decorative. There must be a concern for filling in the grid, and better still, a rebellion against the grid structure. That means a renewed interest in the mark and the image—thus, content. That means an emphasis on the structure of the mark and the organization of image—thus, pattern. It means that art must broaden its range of models, to include those averse to the now-narrowed modernist sensibility. The lofty morals which begat the greatest abstract paintings from Malevich to Newman have consistently been perverted so that the results become little more than fetishized commodities in the guise of high-class apartment decoration. Only painting dedication to an analysis of function rather than self-materiality will manage to generate meaning and reclaim painting as something radically moral.

Jeff Perrone