New York

Edward Youkilis

Acquavella Gallery

Edward Youkilis works with a fiberglass painting base that he may, in spots, use to saturate the canvas and, in others, build up a thick, matte surface. The result is that in any one painting there are two materially contiguous surfaces, one in which color is suspended (each as to the chemistry of the pigment) and another on which it holds fast and hard. On these grounds he traces a given shape, mostly sections of a circle cut out of cardboard (one shape to each series of paintings). These are then filled in with more color, first with a sponge, then a brush.

Superimposed, the forms read abstractly. Yet, as each is somewhat modeled and given its own perspective (as in Cézanne), they read representationally too. This is partly the effect of the tablelike motifs—indeed, each canvas as a whole reads like a table that one cannot quite locate in a perspectival space, because as we look at it, it is as if we are looking down upon it, Thus the paintings shift: one is not sure whether the forms are horizontal or vertical (an ambiguity like that of the “prone” or “erect” center nudes in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon or whether the space is flat or deep (an ambiguity like that of Abstract Expressionist space). The painting is less an extension of visual space (less, that is, a landscape) than what Leo Steinberg called an “opaque flatbed” (like Rauschenberg’s Bed), less a space in which to present images and more a receptacle for literal objects. However, Youkilis merely traces objects, and does not make of them “materialized images.”

What I have said relates the work to formal concerns that call for strategies perhaps more profound than Youkilis’. It may be that Youkilis is a legatee of certain aspects of Matisse that are taken over but not fully digested so that Matisse-like “decoration,” though formally significant, becomes in fact “merely decorative.” Which is to say that, lovely as they are (or because they are lovely, painted for delectation), the paintings could be more rigorous.

Hal Foster