New York

Jonathan Santlofer

Graham Modern

Jonathan Santlofer’s sculpted paintings, with their ruptured frames and projecting surfaces, are about breaking out of orderly confines, about opening up. At times, they resemble ruptured Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. The discontinuous compositions are composed of slices and wedges of painted canvas: Missed Kiss, 1988, is folded like a paper fan. Painted images are combined with real objects; in The Last Supper, 1988, a real table leg (itself painted over) projects out from the canvas, contrasting with an image of a table leg painted on one of the work’s surfaces. Stones, 1988, is an almost pyramidal grouping of real and painted stones appearing before and behind glass, within and beyond frames. Formally, such devices play on the notion of illusionism; in Piece of the Past, 1988, even the frame becomes part of the image, reproduced in paint on the surface of the canvas it struggles to contain.

But Santlofer’s work also resonates with deeper meanings. Resurrection, 1988, successfully combines all the artist’s concerns. The work is a triptych of rectangular panels that advance and recede in space. Its three parts function as a trinity: the broken branch at the center is the actual "body,” its imaginative recreation in paint is to its right, and the spiritualized ghost of its presence, an empty landscape, is to its left. The real and the imagined are thus explored in their most exalted context: the contrast between physical reality and spiritual being.

The formal complexity of Santlofer’s compositions is matched by the wit of their titles: Turn of the Century, 1987, features a spinning whirlpool engulfing a darkened landscape, and Piece of the Past suggests that both the open landscape it depicts and the genre of landscape painting itself are now obsolete. Religious themes are also touched upon: Sign of its Time, 1988, features a partially obscured cross. Several preliminary sketches included in the show, carefully marked over with instructions for the treatment and adjustment of elements, indicate the essentially analytic nature of Santlofer’s working process. Yet for all the formal experimentation and intellectual games, the artist’s work remains mysterious. In a double movement, the pieces both force themselves upon us, confronting us with their explosive energy, and pull us back into their darkened landscapes, into the eerie, silent realms at the center of their swirling spirals.

Lois E. Nesbitt