New York

Rodney Ripps

Rodney Ripps bunches cloth elm leaves into tight bundles, adds layers of thick paint to the approximately rectangular “face” of the bundle, and displays them with the “leaves” standing “on end” off the wall. Slight variations occur from piece to piece (I don’t know whether to call the things paintings or sculptures or painted sculptures or sculptural paintings) according to density and sequential layering of color (sometimes you can see through the paint to the cavernous spaces between the leaves, and sometimes you can’t see the leaves at all from the front).

Among the pieces, there is no real difference of overall color, because each piece has every possible hue and shade applied to it; the differences arise from the point at which a certain color was applied, and next to what other color, either behind or in front of it. A close inspection does not reveal a systematic attempt to differentiate between successive layers in different pieces, only within a single piece. As far as I could tell, there was no conscious plan with which Ripps played out a set of variations. He seems to have one very odd “idea,” which he repeats. The present pieces are more compact and regular than ones in the past, even though the same basic materials were used. And the new ones are less eccentric, forming a small world of generality where the most diverse substances become compatible by simple familiarity. But repetition can make anything seem normal.

The pieces do not imply any relationship to nature. The cloth leaves are obviously fake. The arrangements are highly artificial. The paint doesn’t look organic, but it doesn’t even try to look like flowers or foliage. Ripps’ placing the leaves “on end,” in an unnatural position, and covering them with an extraneous chemical goop, recalls, not the world of nature, but its close, unnatural counterpart, floriculture. Florists give leaves wire supports, and then pierce styrofoam blocks with botanically impossible arrangements of dead, dried out, lacquered flowers. It is not clear from Ripps’ pieces if he intends this highly stylized association or not, and this is one of the primary weak points in his work as a whole.

There is always a messy area between intention and effect; when an artist introduces unusual materials and unusual uses of unusual materials, there is no convention to anchor meaning. The viewer’s mind starts jumping all over the place, trying to get a hold on what’s going on. For instance, there are a lot of artists using very thick paint application at the moment, and the results can be very strange. But some use it with wit and invention. (I think of Cynthia Carlson’s identification of thick paint with cake decorating and icing.) Ripps applies his paint straight from the tube. The tube opening leaves squishy, circular marks all over the paint tracks’ surface. This kind of obviousness, this use of a flatfooted technique, distracts the viewer from any other question than “why,” as in “why bother?” Ripps should be using materials to draw viewers into the work, and not as a stumbling block to keep them out, unless that is what he genuinely wants to do.

Jeff Perrone