New York

Ed Albers

Fawbush Gallery

Ed Albers’ diptych canvases (all works, 1989) portray hazy worlds populated by microbiotic life-forms. From the left panels emerge faint ghostlike patterns; the right panels bear isolated microbes, set off against a flat, murky background and highlighted by an eerie light. These forms are viewed as if under a microscope, enlarged many more times than normal and rendered with great precision. The creatures seem almost familiar, like distant cousins to the tree, as in Ramosus Spiraculum (Branching airhole), or the jellyfish, as in Siliqua Viri (Husks of the men). Albers’ earlier paintings, less restrained than the recent ones, often portrayed violent Darwinian struggles between reptilelike creatures. Here, the artist has worked his way down to the lowest rungs of the evolutionary ladder, seeking to capture the ways in which microorganisms adapt to their environments. While the earlier paintings were about the instinct to live, these explore the very form that instinct takes in nature, the structures that evolve to ensure the continuation of life. Maxilla Orbica (Circular jaws) makes this point overtly, with its fortresslike construction from which protective fangs emerge.

An important influence for Albers is the German artist Karl Blossfeldt, known for his photographs from the ’20s of enlarged plant forms. Albers’ work is a similar fusion of art and science. As Blossfeldt did, he transposes scientific images from petri dish to gallery wall. His paintings are ruminations on origin, heredity, progress, and the will to live. Albers calls the ghost-patterns in the left panels “memory forms,” ancient fossils related to the life-forms on the right. His references to genetics and evolution have distinct implications for our own lives. By emphasizing the durability of microscopic organisms, Albers challenges our anthropocentric view of the world. These paintings betray an obsession with technical perfection, yet Albers differs from an artist like William Baziotes, who placed nature in the service of updating exhausted Modernist styles. Albers looks to nature as a way of putting human existence into perspective, and in this regard he is unmistakably a Romantic.

Jenifer P. Borum