Larry Day

Gross McCleaf Gallery

Larry Day’s paintings rely on a belief in the language of painting and the possibility that, despite its ever changing position in the contemporary art world, it may continue to speak with significance. While the viewer initially experiences a variety of architectural exteriors as the obvious subject of these paintings, it is Day’s particular sensibility taking on the tradition of painting that constitutes the real content of his work. Representation becomes a vehicle for more abstract concerns. In The Red Building, 1988, the general configuration of the exteriors—the size and scale of the parts as they relate to the whole, how the arrangement sits inside its frame—creates a stagelike presence, reinforcing an idea of place as well as presenting a particular locale. And in all of the eight works seen here, it is the abstract considerations that prevail. Day’s paintings do not speak of the light of this or that city; they are as conversant with the frescoes of Piero della Francesca as they are with the back streets of Philadelphia. Everywhere the paint is uniformly thin and the light appears to emanate from within the forms.

Day’s vision, as revealed through his mannered approach, is felt in the gallery space as an accumulation of experience, pared down to a few chosen views and bearing an invisible weight. We have been given a piece of the world to consider, a select form of representation, and our reward for looking deeply into these paintings is to feel the heaviness of all that is not there. The works show no sign of human activity; buildings appear as isolated things in the world. Loss floats in the air of these paintings, commenting on past and future; memory and imagination are suspended in each empty view. Windows appear as symbols of refusal; if they are not boarded up, then they are painted out, preventing visual penetration. The Way In, 1986–87, further supports Day’s ironic offerings—they suggest but, finally, withhold. Here we are presented with a deep perspective, implying entrance that is never granted. To reinforce the impossibility of the moment, the light and color of the sky mimic that of the concrete floor, which is no less dense or penetrable. The Way In is a dead end.

These paintings exist as evidence, necessary acts, deliberate and considered. Perhaps the final irony is in Day’s persistence in making these paintings at all. This thought does not direct itself to the artist, but to a possible audience. There is nothing here to stop us, shock us—there is so little “hook.” Instead, the calculated restraint requires all the more from us—we who would like to carry each experience with us and keep moving.

Eileen Neff