New York

Donald Baechler

Paul Kasmin Galery / Baron/Boisanté

Distinguished by their idiosyncratic infantilism and the richness of their surfaces, the compositions Donald Baechler exhibited at Paul Kasmin last spring reveal the artist as a master of the sloppy line, the crazy shape, and the deranged dot. Baechler uses collage, ink, gesso, flashe, coffee, and pencil on paper to create these masterfully messy compositions, which interpolate the flattened-out schizophrenic space of his larger works with a new delicacy and concision.

Two compositions, each entitled Crowds (all works 1990), are the strongest in this show. In one, primitive heads made up of a circle, two dots for eyes, and horizontal and vertical bars for the nose and mouth, fill out the space on the page like a cell culture in a petri dish. The flatness that Baechler is known for works on the dual levels of form and content in these pieces, once again demonstrating that those two aspects of the visual experience were artificially separated in the first place. Framed by a row of faceless blank circles, these cell-like heads form a homogenous mass, a crowd, in which each head is distinguished from its neighbors only by a slightly wavering line. The crowd reads as a total organic entity with a singular gaze, though fruit and other, stranger flora interrupt the undifferentiated mass of heads like mutations. In the second Crowds piece, the heads are more cartoonish; they have more hair, more secondary sex characteristics, and more personality. But in the far-left corner of the composition, they degenerate back into primitive line drawings, which look all the more poignant and anthropomorphic next to the more deliberately articulated caricatures.

Green Carnation is a grotesque rendition of that flower on the same rough surface that characterizes all of these works. The carefully rendered stem supports a blossom that opens up like a monstrous growth. In the other works in this series, Baechler once again demonstrates his fascination with the shapes of simple iconography—the suits of playing cards and numbers, for example.

Uptown at Baron/Boisanté, Baechler recently showed two portfolios of aquatints printed from copper plates. One series is called “Frutas” (Fruits), the other “Tangram.” Once again these works seduce the viewer with their childlike simplicity and a richness of texture rare in work this size. “Tangram” uses shapes from a Chinese game by the same name in which players have to make shape-images from triangles, squares, rhomboids, and parallelograms. The crude candles and swans, and the repeated anthropomorphic shapes referring to some kind of human being, standing or skating, suggest that Baechler must have enjoyed the reduction of graphic possibility to a simple vocabulary.

The “Frutas” series consists of four prints of two of Baechler’s favored subjects: fruit and food. Rendered with exaggeratedly thick lines, the shapes reveal the kind of graphic confidence that comes only with obsessive repetition. Drawing is the central component of Baechler’s highly idiosyncratic and original way of working, and these smaller works, even more than his paintings, allow the viewer to appreciate the fruits of his labor.

Catherine Liu