New York

Murray Reich

Raw Space

Judgments made by Plato in his Laws and Aristotle in his Politics regarding the exalted ranking of music over other arts have caused painters to suffer from mimesis-guilt ever since. Claims have been made for paintings that would be music, but painting is painting and music is music and the twain meet in theatre, opera and movies. Murray Reich organizes his paintings on the form of the musical quartet, but that shouldn’t be a discouragement. The only music they invoke is the “ta-dundun-dun” fanfare accompanying the 20th-Century Fox logo. Painting, like music, involves mathematical orderings and reorderings, but no one listens to painting; one looks at it.

The searchlight effect of Hollywood premiere lights is what Reich’s paintings instantly evoke, but their apparent structure is about pigment: how it’s applied, how it interacts. His colors: the primaries plus green. The colors are mixed approximating the psychedelic variety of magenta, chrome yellow, chartreuse, cyan. Psychedelic is not an inappropriate word here, for one approaches and leaves Reich’s paintings rather pie-eyed in response to their complexity. Reich applies his paint dot by dot with a squeeze bottle to achieve a controlled, precise pointillism. The results are deliriously optical, but not in the sense that they bewilder the eye with dramatic color collisions; on the contrary: Reich’s colors (to submit to a musical as well as color metaphor) are all the same key, the same value.

Reich’s paintings tell you how to read them; they’re serious, clear, there’s no pussyfooting. They have a narrative, or, if you will, dramatic, content: each color “originates” in its own band running parallel to, later caroming, mixing and diffusing with, the other three bands of color, like so many multicolored billiard balls across the canvas. If musical metaphor must be adopted to describe them, fugue would be more accurate than quartet, because the colors resonate in their own wakes. For every angle of incidence, there’s a refraction. The density of color dissolves (as does refracted light) after it angles back and forth. The painting’s narrative is about the life of a ray of light, pigment being light’s surrogate here.

Reich’s intricate, compulsive dotting is a primary mark that’s become a technological marker as well. Dot patterns facilitate the production and reproduction of the photographic and the television image. The dissolution of one of his light rays into masses of dots recalls nothing so much as the overall effect of television “snow.” Even the choice of color corresponds to hues on color television. Apropos of this parallel to television images, the elegance of Reich’s angles, their ascension and declination, has been reduced to so many random possibilities on that byproduct of television technology, the computerized video ping-pong game.

The relation of Reich’s paintings to mechanically reproduced images in no way minimizes his work. Technology is, before all, after all, a product of the hand. As technology threatens to routinize, channel and inhibit human activity, Reich takes steps to reappropriate for the artist the systems that brought us technology. The paintbrush smooths over, spreads out, makes nice. Reich’s squeeze-bottle pointillism pokes, fragments, builds up, points. It’s a dialogue between Georges Seurat and Nam June Paik.

Carrie Rickey