New York

Charles Clough

Pam Adler Gallery

Increasingly, the use of hybrid media by contemporary artists must be read as a critical gesture, implying comment on the epistemological limitations or inadequacies of specific means to our time. This appears to be the case in Charles Clough’s works, which are mediumistic mongrels, amalgams of photographs and paint. Each of his recent small images consists of an art reproduction or photograph that has been swathed with brilliant strokes of swirled and scumbled paint. The colors and textures of enamel play contrapuntally with the underlying images so as to shift or mimic the focus in a harmonic dialogue among works. The photographed scenes are mainly landscapes, woodlands, beaches, and parks; the reproductions run the gamut from Dutch masters to Monet to Morris Louis. Each of the tiny paintings can, on the buyer’s request, be blown up into a full-scale photograph, thus completing the trajectory of means. However, the notion of “appearance” is central here, for Clough’s efforts diverge from current medium-centered discourse in significant ways.

The works pertain to a highly sophisticated, slick production, void of all semblance of naive spontaneity. They bespeak skill, artifice, and attention to the full repository of painterly device, framed by an unsentimental perspective characteristic of Clough’s generation. But what’s interesting in this work is the way it distinguishes itself from both appropriation-gone-sour and from the demystification of painting that is notable in the work of Gerhard Richter. For these are very much paintings—lush, assertive of sensuous matter—just as they are indisputably abstractions. The narrative associations of the photographs are always impeded, blocked by the frenetic welter of strokes. In the same gesture, objectivity is suppressed by the flourish of subjective signs.

Yet Clough navigates equivocally, as if aware of contradictory options. If he seems on the one hand to deny the emotiveness of his sources—if he masks the initial images through a repetitive device to form a profusion of related works—he still provides variations in mood, intensity, and visual pitch which delineate shadings of response. The range of sensations emanating from Clough’s chosen subjects defeats any impulse to read the work as a discourse on the reproducibility of touch. For while Clough negates the myth of originality through his use of reproductions and through the replication his own work implies, this action is best legible as a reflection on the vast, pullulating image bank, of mixed and mingled composition, that defines contemporary society. Indeed, Clough seems to view this repository as a dense and embracing medium whose incessant motion on the individual sensibility activates the mechanics of response. His works are visual reactions, dialogues with the broad scan of pictorial culture. They indicate a paradoxical “Expressionism,” aware of its own fragility—one attuned to emotional values, but skeptical. In rallying his production with and against past traditions, Clough demonstrates an important exploration of the possibilities of painting in a period of nostalgia and disbelief.

Kate Linker