New York

Doug Anderson

Phyllis Kind Gallery

As a newspaper critic in Boston, I watched Doug Anderson’s painting develop for almost a decade. I was pleased to see that his New York debut was the strong showing I always expected he would make.

Anxious to impress my admiration for his work upon people who had never seen it, I used to find myself saying things like, “Anderson is going to be the next David Salle,” knowing that was not what I really expected or wished to see happen. I see Salle as a conceptual artist—a sort of critical neo-Dadaist, to revive an old term—who paints only in order to drain the activity of painting of whatever convivial impulse that might be left to it, the better to impugn the “culture” of mass manipulation within which contemporary painting inevitably takes its place. As a refractory phenomenon of that culture, Salle’s art has a derisive sophistication. The superficial affinity between his work and Anderson’s is in the way each articulates the disorientation indigenous to contemporary society.

Aptly, Salle’s art does not resist being read as a stylistic code for the will to position himself in an artistic lineage linking James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns with the urbane smirk of Marcel Duchamp. In Anderson’s work, on the other hand, sensibility outshines attitude and semiotic strategy His line is deliberately inelegant and often overwhelmed by flashy contrasts of color and value, but most of his figural inventions are lightly worked enough to be completely convincing as improvisations. The freshness and generosity of the paint surface, which harks back to Abstract Expressionism, also vouch for the improvised nature of Anderson’s images. The images themselves are readable as representations in many of their details, yet they make no sense. To begin describing one is to fall into a trap from which a knack for discursive interpretation is no release. The eye picks its way through Anderson’s paintings, unpredictably diverted along intoxicating detours into color and handling, while the mind identifies nothing with certainty except the potential repatterning of its own circuitry, protocol, and habits.

In the strongest paintings shown in New York, Structures and Deformities and Bucket Head, both 1985, Anderson sets everything against an obsidian black that looks like pooled ink, an effect achieved in part by working the canvases on the floor. The enveloping black inevitably suggests a dark time lasting longer than a single night. It also hints at the timeless inner darkness, individual and collective, from which the images come.

If his paintings did not somehow correspond to the sense or zany menace that now cuts across boundaries between private and public realms and events, the simple love of painting Anderson demonstrates might seem trivial. But because so many of his images have as much nightmare in them as whimsy, they do not seem to deny in any way the feelings of absurdity, foreboding, and hopelessness that shadow our mundane lives. In fact, Anderson’s works redeem painting and looking at paintings precisely by showing these to be activities in which love without denial is possible.

Kenneth Baker