New York

Walter Robinson

Metro Pictures

In a way it’s as if Walter Robinson and Lawson, who showed together, are anxious to prove that they really can paint, in the old-fashioned sense of “render” They seem to be straining to be normal, competent, and well-behaved against the current of their own deep-dyed rebelliousness (a combination often misread as cynicism), but the rigid perfectionism of their “normalcy” is merely the logical outcome of turning that rebellious fault-finding inward. Take the bowl of sugar cubes that initiated this round of depicted objects. It was out of context in that almost every other painted item here would be found in a bathroom. “Excessive sweetness” is the work’s message, self-consciously pinning down the cloying quality of Robinson’s best-known imagery. In addition, the calculated prettiness of these still lifes of commercial products disinherits the earlier aggressively ugly or cute works. No doubt this partly reflects a desire to escape typecasting.

Not everything has changed. Robinson continues to balk at taking art seriously (potentially the most serious of all positions because it can come out of the most seriously disappointed expectations), and the sugar is a warning that confection is what follows. True, the paintings have a straightforward quality, butthat confounds what may be a slyly pornographic comedy. On the one hand, the show had an almost meditative air; imagine Andy Warhol or Wayne Thiebaud getting a crush on Giorgio Morandi. On the other hand, the inventory included baby oil, Vicks Vaporub, Vaseline Lotion, tiger balm, and Tampax, commodities rampant with conflicts between baby innocence and adult sex. A head-and-gut dichotomy, the Excedrin and Bromo-Seltzer, “morning after” remedies, also signal excess. Many of these bottles and jars contain viscous substances, and viscosity defines the paintings themselves—though acrylic, they are smeary, drippy, slick with the primal quality of finger painting. It’s as if the contents of the jars have become the medium for their constitution, or, conversely, as if the containers are attempting to solidify their outlines in the face of the insistent drubbing they receive from the paint. Of course, it is madness to suggest that paint itself is obscene.

Pop art is fetishization. In its heyday it was accused of being as dumb as it pretended to be; if judged intelligent, it was charged with corruption. Robinson’s paintings play tag with that history.

Jeanne Silverthorne