New York

Patrick Ireland

Parsons-Dreyfuss Gallery

Patrick Ireland’s drawings result from a coordination of distinct (but not disparate) impulses. The systematic, even systemic, ordering of elements is a prominent factor in his art, but not as prominent as in that of his American contemporaries—“preconceptualists” such as Sol LeWitt, Mel Bochner, and Dorothea Rockburne, the thrust of whose work has been the explication of information as image. These artists’ recent tendency to stress the magic aspect of their art (paradoxically but deliberately enhancing the impact of the information) has long been a characteristic of Ireland’s work.

The drawings in this exhibition, dating from 1970 to the present, demonstrate not only that Ireland deduced this “decorative” approach to systems before the others did, but that his methods are particularly oriented toward visual and physical (as opposed to purely rational) generative processes. The operational systems underlying these pale, shimmering dot-designs are only vaguely apparent, hinted at rather than explicit. But these systems are present—they are rigorous, and interesting.

Ireland regards the dot as both a primitive, fundamental image and a gesture. He channels this rudimentary energy into drawings which record his activity in three ways: as an ordered task imposed upon the self; as a means of measuring and clarifying quantity (i.e. the quantity of dots); and as a means of designing images.

A methodic balance connects these distinct impulses. The regular tempo Ireland maintains while making the dots—which he claims is hypnotic—is counterweighed by the irregularity of the dots’ spacing. There is no grid system (thus leading to what Ireland describes as the “empirical anxiety” of any viewer seeking visual regularity). Rather, perceptual flutter and the hint of an image appear within the dotted fields, the result of Ireland’s holding to relatively open designs. The elimination of psychic distance between eye and hand in Ireland’s quasi-mantric process is conveyed obliquely to the viewer by an apparent shift in scale: from afar the dots are invisible, while up close they are bright and myriad, almost galactic.

The overall designs—intersecting lines, borders of squares, concentric bands of color, or even more provocative forms—determine the otherwise random location of each dot: pattern-as-shape offsets pattern-as-field through containment. But, then, these images are rather slight—pale in their pointillism, they do not really stand on their own as geometric presences. Rather they are vehicles for the implementation of the dotting process.

Here, then, is the real paradox: while Ireland’s method is more visually oriented than those of his colleagues, the result is less visually striking. Ireland’s drawings on paper do not exploit the dynamic scale or right-on-the-wall presence of LeWitt’s or Bochner’s newer, more deliberately handsome work. More expansive, dramatic illustrations of his reasoning are left to his room-size installations of colored rope. In his drawings Ireland retreats into a quietude that intimates the privacy of his semi-solipsistic activity.

Peter Frank