New York

Scot Borofsky

Mokotoff Gallery

Faint, garbled, yet pervasively discernible in Scot Borofsky’s painting and sculpture is a mystical impulse striving to find a contemporary voice. This urge is un usual to current urban culture, and strikingly so when the work is examined with in its immediate context—the East Village, with its often youthfully cynical or callow esthetic, and its literal environment of residential ruins, which one must pass to reach this new gallery at the eastern edge of Manhattan. Borofsky’s previous major work (and the genre with which he is most strongly associated ) was a group of 20 murals on the Lower East Side (Pattern Walk, 1984 ); in this exhibition, his first solo show of studio work since his debut in 1982, it seemed that Borofsky’s imagery is now determined in part by a desire for a kind of accessibility related to, but different from, that of his outdoor public art.

These recent canvases suggest a prototypical “alternative” sensibility regarding the act of painting, like that eliciting graffiti art. They appear to have been quickly made with a spray gun in blocks of basic colors and broad lines that up close are diffused. There is no acknowledgment of the nuances of brushwork or the coloristic subtleties that are possible on resilient fabric. Their technical meagerness suggests a fast food for the eye, meant to be consumed on the run. But whereas a streamlined graphic effect might be appropriate on exterior walls to capture the attention of passersby (as advertisers know well), the motionless scrutiny facilitated by a gallery space (and its identification of the work as “art”) demand more sensitivity to the expression of the imagination via the sensuous quality of the paint. In this, Borofsky reveals some ambiguity as to who his audience is and under what conditions they will view this body of work. He obviously dep ends upon the symbolic forms he depicts to carry all the weight of his art, almost like a telegraphic code. Fortunately, the implications of his adoption of motifs from tribal and preindustrial societies are more fascinating than even he seems to intend.

Borofsky uses primary symbols derived from nature: the sun, wind, a mountain, the human figure. Their source gives them a universality, and yet they have been radically simplified for the contemporary taste, further ensuring their easy recognizability by a heterogeneous audience—a strategy ideal for his public art. At the same time, their pictographic quality suggests both a respect for the ancient cultures from which their imagery has been adapted and a like reverence for the natural cosmos. Thus in the painting Buddhist Allegory, 1985, a large golden triangle, perhaps a mountain/omphalos/axis mundi, points to a small brilliant white sphere above in a navy blue sky that also contains two large spirals. The spiral, whether flinging outward or collapsing inward, connotes continuous change, so it’s significant that these are moving in opposite directions (one in the generative clockwise direction, the other in the destructive reverse), with the point of luminous clarity very distant. In an otherwise simple composition simplistically painted, this sign of a fundamental discordance in the world is startling; there are no other visual cues to support it.

Borofsky’s connection to elemental forces of nature is intrinsic to a mystical spirit, but his description of a world gone awry is puny and appears almost inadvertent (in fact, the artist has stated his work’s aim as a “message of spiritual harmony”). His paintings are intriguing because he has found motifs to reveal states of consciousness, albeit fundamentally confused ones; and, on another level, because he does seem to hold something sacred—namely, a holistic conception of nature. What he doesn’t treat with reverence is the act of making art, looking there by like a pop spiritualist who paints signs.

Suzaan Boettger