Los Angeles

Jamey Bair

Kohn Gallery

Deconstruction as a theoretical strategy has been with us for over a quarter of a century, long enough for its esthetic and philosophical critique to become a staple within the halls of academia. Thus it is hardly surprising to find a new generation of painters, reared on art school dogum, who take Jacques Derrida’s dismantling of traditional binary oppositions—once the very stuff of a utonomous painting—as a given. Jamey Bair is a good case in point, for he encourages a simultaneity of dialectical readings whereby no one binary position is privileged. Instead, order/chaos, representation/nonrepresentation, conceptual distance/painterly seduction, scientistic positivism/linguistic contingency feed mutually and dependently upon each other.

Bair’s early works consisted of enigmatic, weblike filaments that resembled, by turns, exploding nebulae, fake marble, and shattered glass. By creating an unresolved interplay between the transcendentally ethereal and the disjunctively material and traumatic, Bair forced us to distrust both representational readings, making the apparent transparency of the supposed mimesis opaque and thereby disclosing its structural artifice. The kinetic, spontaneous explosion of the filament thus became contrived and static; the seductive quality of the composition, paradoxically, was transformed into an agent of conceptual distance.

A later series of paintings developed this strategy one step further, by employing chance occurrences of formal process to dictate the structural parameters of the painterly image. Bair heated a given painting’s tempera surface so that it cracked, forming a mosaic of abstract shapes. The shards were then painted in retinally charged hues based on the ocular values of color-blindness tests, so that the interlocking fragments focused on a central “aura” of light that exuded a self-conscious spirituality.

Although he has since removed the chance element from the process, this combination of John Cage-like aleatory techniques, scientific formal values, and alchemical synthesis has provided the springboard for Bair’s current output. While the earlier work tended to present the rational/irrational dialectic as a creative fait accompli, the new paintings invite far greater audience production in the hermeneutic process. At first glance, these brooding, moody works look like flowery wallpaper patterns, an orgy of mechanically reproduced, darkly saturated color resembling some psychedelic mutation of a William Morris design. On closer inspection, one discovers that the flowers, in fact, resemble comic book explosions, randomly scattered in an all-over composition that seemingly belies a central focus. Not only is the supposedly domesticated passivity of the patterning supplemented/ supplanted by abstracted violence, but the works’ apparently spontaneous combustion also turns out to be highly structured and premeditated. One starts to discern a faint curvature to the composition, much like the trompe l’oeil convex “bulging” of Victor Vasarely’s ’60s abstractions. What appeared flat and center less now resembles the surface of a cosmic orb, structurally receding to the margins while simultaneously pulling us viscerally into the center.

Superimposed onto this formal reading is Bair’s scientific use of correspondences derived from the color-blindness test. We begin to pick out certain relationships between color values, striving to discern retinal continuities within the apparent chaos of the composition. These can only be provisional, however, for our “scientifically” rational eye is quickly distracted by the interference of more emotive responses.

This is clearly demonstrated in a group of smaller works in which the plethora of explosions is circumscribed into a circular structure and presented against a pastel ground. Here, chaos is contained, tamed almost, within conventional framing devices. The works are almost precious in their thickly varnished intimacy: they are invitingly seductive. Once inside the composition, we again discover gradations of color so that random “pointillism” starts to take on the topography of a landscape. It is this constant interplay between structure and nonstructure, representation and abstraction, active production and passive reception that gives Bair’s current work both its visual and conceptual resonance.

—Colin Gardner