New York

Jeff Perrone

Sperone Westwater

Jeff Perrone’s glazed clay tiles mounted directly on the gallery walls, in groups that form geometric configurations—a reverse L, a diamond, an inverted triangle—combine a delicate painterly technique with the exacting science of ceramics. Their coloristic intensity and brilliance is mesmerizing, and though the exhibition is rife with historical allusions to Persian and Indian miniatures, as well as quotations from artists ranging from Delacroix to Frank Stella and Bruce Nauman, the artist’s touch is refreshingly light.

Perrone’s current show has rendered superfluous previous criticism by ceramists that he violates the integrity of the medium by ignoring functionality as well as the subtleties of “pure” glaze effects, by forgoing these concerns entirely. Rather than create anything that might be construed as a teapot, Perrone employs sheets of clay much as one might pieces of paper, simply to provide a support for his two-dimensional painterly elaborations. Characterized by decorative exuberance, these individual tiles reveal a sheer delight in color and texture of the sort one might associate with children’s drawings, were they not so formally sophisticated and rich in pan-cultural allusion.

The clay sheets also have a sculptural life of their own. They’re never perfectly flat or rectangular, but buckle and tear like so much wayward cookie dough. Though the glazes give them the look of something brittle and impermeable, the tiles also retain the plastic, organic nature of the clay—they curl up off the serious white gallery walls. The tension here—between seeming malleability and brilliant, glassy permanence—seems to hold a secret about the work, which hovers effortlessly between spontaneous decoration and painstaking craft, between childish exuberance and formal sophistication.

What reaches out and grabs a viewer in this exhibition isn’t so much the borrowed Islamic or Indian motifs, or the reflections they might trigger about the propriety of cross-cultural appropriation. It’s simply the profusion of color and decorative patterning—the tumult created by all those contrasting textures and brilliantly racy hues. Perrone’s show is serious fun—candy for the eyes by a master confectioner.

Justin Spring