New York

Michael Young

Blumhelman

Michael Young’s recent show manifests the artist’s interest in minutiae on a grand scale. For several years, Young has been producing small, square paintings of targets, circles, grids, and crosses; the paintings are made of sand and soil affixed to canvas, and sealed with a generous application of clear resin. Young has always imposed strict limits on his own practice. He combines and recombines his reduced formal vocabulary and limits his palette (with the exception of a few isolated patches of manufactured color) to the varying colors of sand provided by nature.

Young’s new work—four large paintings and an installation piece—is an impressive magnification of his recurring themes. This show represents a cosmological spectrum of scale, ranging from the grain of sand to the compositional unit, to the small paintings, to the large paintings and the wall of sand. Young seems to be building a universe out of dust, particle by particle, one whose totality can be read in its particulars. His sudden leap from the modest to the monumental lends this show a sense of urgency.

A sand-covered wall with a grid of evenly spaced empty circles serves as the backdrop for the small paintings. Through a more liberal use of paint and heightened tonal distinctions between his earth tones, Young has invigorated his palette. He has also begun to work with sand in a way that is almost painterly, mixing two different colors to create speckled patches within his rigorously linear compositions. In Target With Many Centers, 1988, a mosaic pattern built out of tiny speckled squares of sand serves as the background to a lime-green and sand-colored target. Dark green and white circles seem to float over the surface of the painting, and the resin veneer has been built up to about an inch. The sides of the buildup have been left jagged, recalling an organic crystalline formation. At times, the sand circles seem to float away from the surface and cast shadows behind them, making this static geometry seem strangely animated.

Young’s larger paintings feature similar iconography, but the effect is different, partly because of the change in scale, but also because of the absence of a resin surface. In To Fabrica with Dust, 1988, a large white cross dominates the composition. Sand-colored circles of different sizes fill in the background, and four bright yellow circles float in front of the cross. The dusty surface and the earthy colors help create a sort of warm geometry. Their beauty stems not only from their balance and clarity, but also from Young’s ability to lend his exhausted forms an earthiness that humanizes them. Their impact stems not from Young’s insistent formalism, but from the way in which he equates formalism with nature. He suggests that circles and grids are as endemic to the scope of abstraction as they are to the landscape that surrounds us.

Matthew A. Weinstein