New York

Rodney Ripps

Holly Solomon Gallery

Rodney Ripps could be the victim of a busk. What’s a busk? It’s an ancient ceremony of renewal wherein the household equipment, old clothes, uneaten food, and other odds and ends of a town are burned to ashes in a communal bonfire. American democracy itself was founded on this notion—both Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine articulated the common agreement that laws should be changed with every generation. Jefferson was willing to give each accession 19 years; the artworld gives it a season.

Certainly two years ago, if not one, Ripps’ new work would have ridden the shoulders of the crowd; it’s energetic, colorful, decorative, and three-dimensional. Unfortunately, many or all of these qualities we now understand as outmoded; understand, for the most part, tacitly. The obvious artworld busk is the manifesto, but the more common sort involves a quiet turning away. People and movements are “dropped.”

In one sense, the Ripps show is a failure, because it does not recognize or deal adequately with the central issue facing artists today—that the “work” is a sideline to the real art, that of keeping up with the flow without being caught changing horses in midstream, exploiting style without being trapped in it.

Jennifer Bartlett is a successful example of this, whereas Lucio Pozzi, in what seems to be the prevailing opinion at any rate, is so protean that our puritan streak deems him uncommitted. It’s a fine line to walk. Some decorative artists (and Bartlett herself, for that matter) have attempted to “keep up” by going figurative without completely abandoning their first love. Kim MacConnel’s cutouts still employ the sort of “commercial” rendering that could make his sporting folk appropriate designs for pedal pushers, and Ned Smyth’s hunters or hunted stalk through a jungle of diamond patterning. Now Ripps has gone figurative, too, but the crucial difference is that his rudimentary individuals, couples, and groups are still overwhelmed by description—gingerbread squiggles and scallops and the famous Ripps rosettes. The verdict will probably be that he hasn’t moved far or fast enough to make the cut.

But there’s a saving grace in the fact that Ripps’ people are all buffoons and that one of the couples is called Adam and Eve. Like Jean-Antoine Watteau, Ripps is a painter of clowns and the edenic, but by collapsing the strains that were separate in Watteau, he appends a charming apology to the latter’s intention to entertain. As harlequin/jesters, his shapes sport bifurcated motley (for example, one side black on gold, the other gold on black) and dunce caps. Putting the parents of the race into dichotomized, confetti-busy suits suggests that once differentiation takes place at all (in the division of a cell or the splitting of the prototypical human being into male and female), motley, i.e., profusion, prolific generation, is the result. To start is to be unable to stop. Finally the work insinuates that, if this is a sin, it’s the original sin. These clown-sinners are more foolish than reprehensible. Ripps’ fidelity to the decorative may not be shrewd, but the work is as clear about its philosophy and motivations as a terminal statement of a movement should be.

Jeanne Silverthorne