Russell Floersch

Stux Gallery

Russell Floersch’s elegantly painted surfaces combine ghostly references to commercial real-estate advertisements with virtuoso graphic and painterly techniques. Brooklyn-based Floersch is subtly political in his fragmented, faded graphite drawings of seductively ornate estates and poolside vistas that appear on small plaster areas of otherwise abstract paintings. He has developed a collage style based on the image, logo, typeface, and design of selected real-estate ads in the Sunday New York Times. Slick titles such as Bella Vista and Belvedere, both 1987–88, derive directly from the inflated promotional vocabulary used to sell luxury properties. Floersch is fascinated with the conceptual possibilities that occur when he takes image, title, and signature out of their commercial context and places them in the realm of his art.

Signature/Heaven, 1988, is a monumentally scaled image in black and white that treats the handwriting of the noted developer and art collector Harry Macklowe as a kind of fetish. Macklowe “personalizes” his real-estate ads with a reproduction of his own signature. Here, the word “heaven” (scrawled in “gold” in the style of Macklowe’s signature) appears toward the bottom of the painting, superimposed over a portion of the word “signature” (also in gold, but in a sanserif typeface letter-spaced across the canvas). The painting’s smooth black ground, in gouache and acrylic applied with a squeegee, is darkly sublime. Above these text elements are two white plaster slits, in each of which he has drawn the same tiny landscape view of trees and a lake. These narrow, painted ovals look like a distorted pair of eyes with pale gray pupils—actually an obscure reference to an image from the Preston Sturges film Christmas in July, 1940. The hero of the film is a “nobody” in an ad agency who buys a toy duck hobbyhorse from a street urchin after winning a large sum of money. Floersch freeze-framed an image of the toy duck’s eyes on his VCR and copied it in his journals. It appears here in elongated form as a foil to the celestial realm signified by the big-monied real-estate magnate.

Floersch juxtaposes images of desire, luxury, and distinctions of power and wealth in his beautifully crafted Lamb/Coat, 1987. The top half is dominated by a flat area of plaster into which Floersch drilled five holes to simulate a notebook page. The word “Lamb,” taken from an East Hampton realtor’s logo, is penciled across a blurry graphite drawing of Central Park, modeled after a Donald Trump ad. In the bottom two-thirds, a marbleized acrylic-on-Formica composition is overlaid with the abstract image of a cloak. The cloak is derived from a postcard of a scene from Simone Martini’s fresco The Life of Saint Martin, ca. 1320–30, in the Church of St. Francis in Assisi. Floersch includes iconographic references to the idea of “lamb” and sacrifice, and the two parts of the composition are stylistically unified by the curving gesture of the cursive letter L, echoed in the abstract cloak.

All 11 paintings that were shown here are beautifully rendered surfaces of paint on birch plywood. The white plaster areas are his notebook pages for creating parodies of the seductive languages of real estate and art. Whether or not the viewer is aware of the intricate references to art and power, Floersch’s images work because of his impressive abilities as a draftsman and painter. In these paintings, Floersch investigates the curious parallels between high art, commercialism, and commodity.

Francine A. Koslow