New York

David Reed

Max Protetch

David Reed continues to explore variations of the lush, sweeping folds of color that have become the hallmark of his painting. On one level these marks suggest magnified, almost fetishized brushstrokes, but their swirling, bulging forms carry other references as well, from rumpled velvet to whitewashed store windows to hilly landscapes. Reed divides his compositions into rectangular sections, most of which are filled with these brushstrokes. Usually, the brushstrokes are contained within individual sections, but sometimes they continue across several of them. In many of the paintings, a section or narrow border of flat color serves to counterpoint these illusionistic brushstrokes.

This relatively simple syntax allows Reed to explore a wide range of formal and compositional questions. Removed from the context of a larger pictorial structure, the brushstroke marks are dematerialized, taking on an emblematic, iconic quality; by juxtaposing them with flat areas of intense color Reed creates complex spatial effects as well. The smooth, almost machined surfaces of the paintings further emphasize their theoretical quality—the sense that they are as much arguments about the idea of a painting as physical object. Even the thick ridges and drips of the swirling paint are polished down, creating a kind of idealized, abstract texture, one removed from contingency, while linking them to the photographic surfaces as well. In several works here Reed uses different color schemes in very similar compositional structures. The effect is like that of a silkscreen printed with different inks, or of a controlled experiment in which only one variable is changed.

Despite this analytical, engineered quality, the paintings have a richly sensual presence. Reed allows himself the greatest freedom for emotional play in his use of color, but even color is made to fill a dual role, serving both expressive and analytical functions. Moreover, his use of startling colors and juxtapositions makes the emotional connotations unfamiliar, difficult to specify.

Two works here move away from this carefully balanced blend of issues and effects. In #254, 1987–88, a long horizontal, the sections of the painting are no longer discrete units like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle but instead are piled up on top of one another, overlapping. One brushstroke rectangle is even translucent, as if it has been detached from its background and is floating free, like a decal or a photographic negative. In #253, 1987, a tall vertical, the brushstroke itself loses its status as a distinct entity with defined edges. The sections of this painting all but disappear; the entire surface appears to be covered with a loose version of the brushstroke done in a dark ambiguous color, almost black. The painting is bordered on the left by a flat black strip, but the brushstroke mark is itself so dark that the division between it and the border is obscured. In the context of Reed’s other works this shift is like suddenly turning from sonnets to free verse—there’s a sense of liberation, with a quick rush of energy. But the dark hue and the recessive, nearly obliterated border keep the painting from collapsing into happy babble.

Reed has discussed the influence of Baroque painting on his work; certainly his work shares the stately lyricism of the art of that period, as well as its achievement of great emotional power through careful formal order. He addresses the issue of the relationship between image and object neatly, by conflating the mark and its representation. In shifting the terms of his syntax, he continues to make work that is at the same time experiential and theoretical, immediate and deeply self-conscious.

Charles Hagen