Los Angeles

Richard Sedivy

Irit Krygier Gallery

Like many of the New Image painters of the ’70s, Chicago-born Richard Sedivy emerged from the reductive exercises of Minimalism. His early work consisted of series of broken masonite that explored fundamental Minimalist issues such as sequential format and frontality. Since then, Sedivy has branched out into more image-oriented issues, in particular the ideology of the language of representation and the role of sign and symbol in pictorial composition.

His current paintings depict common objects and architectural form (pillars, post-and-lintel supports) against lush, almost romantic “landscapes” in dark red and umber Sedivy’s subjects take the form of visual icons, so that simple architectural language becomes a metaphor for something else, whether a childhood memory, a dream, or a cultural reference point. Objects are still arranged sequentially, either in the form of a specific historical continuum, or as random, nonhierarchical signifiers.

A typical example is Kutná Hora, 1984, named after the Czechoslovakian city in which Sedivy’s grandfather was raised. Seven columns, each representing a discrete architectural period (fragments, perhaps, from the community’s history) are aligned against a dark-brown and rust background. The columns have been varnished to offset them from the predominantly mat ground, allowing them to float as self-reflexive signs. More interesting, however, is Sedivy’s application of the sequence to issues of repetition and difference. Each column shares the same architectural function (it is a vertical support), yet it also alludes to the development of human thought, ranging from paganism and Greco-Roman classicism to the Christian and Modernist epochs. Inanimate objects become imbued with a specific ideological rhetoric, where overtones of sentimentality and historicity act as emotional catalysts for a subjective “reading in” by the viewer.

Sedivy underlines such rhetoric through process and plus-minus composition, all the better to deconstruct it. In The Grand Faux Pas, 1985, he uses a simple wall-in-a-landscape motif to simultaneously explore history and his medium via overt signification. The canvas is divided horizontally by a long wall, which in turn is disrupted by four doorways, each representing a specific historical period. The use of doors and arches is significant insofar as they suggest thresholds onto new terrain, encouraging us to look beyond the mere surface symbology of the canvas. Each stretch of wall between the doorways is delineated in a different material and, by extension, painted in a different way Collaged strips of canvas and newspaper allude to decay; whitewashed bricks to the covering-up and remaking of history by succeeding generations; the pentimenti of picket fencing, to a long-lost innocence.

These are all subjective, often emotional responses to mere arrangements of forms in space. Sedivy self-consciously breaks down his canvases in much the same way a critic dissects a painting, film, or book. He points out our need to categorize, to order, and to interpret. That he achieves this with such bravura style and painterly resonance is a bonus, for Sedivy is one of those rare painters who exploits the mystification of his medium while giving away its secrets at the same time.

Colin Gardner