New York

Valerie Jaudon

Holly Solomon Gallery

Where Sarkisian is cold, Valerie Jaudon is detached. Her paintings don’t invite you into them, nor do they attach themselves to you. The seven works in her recent show are commanding, imperious. Emanating confidence and assured of close scrutiny, they radiate self-esteem. These words aren’t used to describe the hauteur of an aristocrat, but the dignity of the didact who must remain separate in order to be instructive. The paintings can’t risk being your friends, they won’t presume to be your betters.

Named for towns in Mississippi (Jaudon’s birthplace)—Courtland, Waveland, Yocona, Capell, Leland, Mound Bayou, State Line—the canvases (they’re actually painted on cotton duck, less coarse a weave than canvas, but “ducks” is hardly synonymous with “canvases”) show filaments intertwining in improbable lattices and unlikely lacings. Close up to a painting you get that vertiginous feeling accompanying close examination of the weave of a cable-knit sweater, a rug, or a tapestry. You try to follow the line of a filament, it gets away from you; a mystery of weaving that eludes and confounds the eye.

Further away from the painting you’re overwhelmed by the overall orchestration of its pattern. Its jeweled luminosity (five of the paintings have metallic pigment mixed with the oil paint) invokes the complexities of filigree. Like filigree, Jaudon’s paintings have no beginning or ending, only centers and excrescences. As a decorative art, filigree flourished in Celtic and Islamic-culture, and Jaudon’s invented patterns share stylistic similarities with the decorative work of those civilizations. But this is 1979 and Jaudon can’t hope to validate her work by connecting it with the glory that was Kells and the grandeur that was Constantinople. She doesn’t.

Jaudon’s patterning frees painting from the burden of cerebration placed upon it by history. This isn’t to say her paintings aren’t intelligent, but name a painting that can pass a Stanford-Binet test. These paintings give us permission to think they’re beautiful, give us permission to think, don’t think for us. Their complexity of form is obviously the result of Jaudon’s painstaking design, but they demand of the viewer an equal complexity of readings.

The decorative arts transform functional objects into objects of beauty. The fine arts produce objects of contemplation. Jaudon angles for painting that is contemplative and decorative; its function: to provide networks, connections and interstices to be completed by the viewer, just as the use of a tool is to be determined by its user. (Duchamp: use a Rembrandt as an ironing board.) The paintings are visually intricate, texturally rich, and contentually nonprescriptive. Each painting accommodates the confluence and incongruity of connection and missed connection. Each filament is a road that might or might not end precipitously. The staggering aspect of Jaudon’s work is that the painting may end, but the suggested pattern is infinite.

Carrie Rickey