David Russick

Deson-Saunders Gallery

It is difficult to imagine more charming and seductive paintings than these by David Russick. In canvas after canvas, a sharp sense of graphic design is fused with an inventive and playful use of diagrammatic imagery, creating episodes of pictorial understatement that nonetheless speak volumes. Russick provides a base for his ruminations by laying out hard-edged and severe pictorial fields. Over these he renders easily identifiable objects—cups, baseball bats, hands, stretched canvases, oars, spools, pipes—sometimes singly, sometimes in odd combinations, all realized with simple unvariegated, tapelike black lines. This anonymous and schematic program causes settings and images to come together to form signs, but these are signs of dislocation and subtle disjunction, signs that elude reconciliation. There is a sense of awe and wonder in Russick’s art, and a delicacy of feeling that is disarming. It can sweep the viewer into a state of reverie.

In Who Is It?, 1988, Russick presents two of these linear renderings of right hands, arranged in a horizontal alignment and isolated on large gray fields. The hands are softly clenched, as if they held a toy, a coin, or a bit of candy. The image is a logo for play, a giggle in acrylic paint, a discreet and almost wistful call for small pleasures. In the finest sense of the word it is childlike, and it willfully aims to delight. Russick subjugates all other pictorial elements—there are no brushstrokes visible anywhere in his work, and his use of color, while often forceful, is largely tangential—to concentrate on this direct and successful appeal to our better nature. In a manner reminiscent of René Magritte, scrupulous fantasy is its own achievement and reward.

Two of these paintings present particularly poignant examinations of the state of art itself, and of the concerns Russick has for its continued existence and ability to act as a vehicle of meaning. Pulled Up, 1988, depicts two schematic stretched canvases, with the smaller one resting on top of the larger. On the smaller canvas, a hand (this time in white lines) is shown with its fingers crossed. Now I Know, 1988, shows a blank stretched canvas surrounded by a simple wreathlike interlacing of short staccato white lines, which can read as bits of barbed wire, or as a crown of thorns, or even as a halo. These are surprisingly heartrending images, and they take some of their power from their simplicity and directness. In his best work, Russick pursues an economy of means, not an economy of meaning.

James Yood