Alan Neider

Illinois Arts Council Gallery And Clarence White Gallery

Much of Alan Neider’s work has a certain inviting, untidy immediacy. He adds wooden blocks and beams to the corners and sides of his six-foot-square paintings, then streaks paint over the canvas letting drops, dots, and trickles mess up the wood. He also produces what he calls “collars,” rumpled configurations of untrimmed canvas dipped into asphalt paint and left to congeal with unsystematic pools of a tacky, shiny, greasy-appearing hue. A third project is “basement sculpture,” roughly four-foot-high structures whose glass and mirror bodies are dripped with yellowed, medicine-colored paint, knotted together with strips of what seem to be dirty torn bandages, and finally balanced or propped with undersized, skinny, tree-limb appendages.

As if to mitigate all this disarray, Neider embellishes his work. The trickles on his wooden blocks and beams are indeed, for the most part, left as they “arrived,” but here and there they are made more regular, more formal, more “correct,” more like a pattern. And the congealed canvas “collars,” though left tacky, are flattened and then ornamented with gold, blue, green, and orange zig-zags and striping, trims of upholstery tacks, and interlacings of carpenter’s thread. Even his “basement sculpture” has gold paint over the tree bark, mirrors reflecting special textures, wooly pom-poms around unsightly material joints, and fragile tree-twigs for an occasional harmonious “headdress.”

The resulting decorated clumsiness usually works, largely, I think, because his aggressive way of building or putting things together becomes an overriding theme. The energy of Neider’s work is striking. The wooden blocks and beams are plunked across each other at oblique angles to the canvas; they cross, bump, press, pull, and create air pockets to look through. His “collars” are seductively holdable and when moved or handled make a sticky, crackling sound. The “basement sculpture” juts out at dangerous angles, ominously threatening to fall down, and dynamically squashing paint globs between shattered and chipped fragments.

But a problem with much of Neider’s work is that it so often looks very much like other artists: from Frank Stella to Rafael Ferrer, with other assorted references. Another problem is that his tidying up—for instance, regularizing the droplets on his dynamic paintings—can make what otherwise would be a diaristic, personal statement look contrived or restricted to fit codified design rules. It is ironic that a body of work which depends for its impact upon aggressiveness, immediacy, and physical energy should ever be countermanded by a simultaneous concern for being both pleasing and safely conventional.

C. L. Morrison