New York

Philip Wofford

Frumkin/Adams Gallery

Philip Wofford’s paintings seem to exist at the very core of the enactment of the Abstract Expressionist impulse. Irrepressible texture, loosely associated with our unconscious drivenness, has become a kind of hysterical hemorrhaging of energy in his images. Perhaps Green Fuse, 1990—I take it to be an allusion to Dylan Thomas’ famous line about the force “that through the green fuse drives the flower”—makes the point succinctly: painterliness becomes primordial, and its forcefulness seems to mirror that inherent in nature—in our own natures.

What makes Wofford’s images especially significant—more so than conventional Expressionist work, in which paint is plastered on with masturbatory excitement—is that they convey what is implicit to genuine expression: the tendency to dissociative disintegration—to regressive representation. That is, Wofford’s violent blur—the peculiar disorganization of his images—recovers the chaotic state of mind in which fantasy and reality can no longer be differentiated. This dissociation is evident in his colors, which interact to irreal effect, as in December Light, 1989, where harshly acidic hues and murky ones exist side by side. This jarring, disjointed quality, a constant in Wofford’s works, is the essence of the dissociative effect. It suggests a unity that is false—that is the product of elements that are violently forced together and just as violently rent apart. Meaning itself is on edge in these works, which tend to regress to pure painterliness—the ultimate dissociative intransigence.

Another indicator of dissociation is compulsive repetition—not of any particular emotion, but of a generalized affective instability. In Wofford’s work, melancholy seems to rebel against itself, in an endless, futile effort at self-surrounding. In such paintings, the pictographs exist more to relieve us from the turbulence of the painterly drama than to convey any particular meaning. Indeed, the passionate, self-conflicted excess of desire conveyed by the painterliness ultimately undermines all semiotic intention.

Wofford’s drawings look a little tamer—more self-contained—than his paintings, but perhaps this is only because they are framed differently. In the paintings texture splashes over the beveled, stretched edges of the canvases, while in the drawings it is contained. This is an unfortunate effect; the framing makes the drawings seem more decorative than they are, and the painterly energy more stylized. The drawings seem to have a greater mimetic intention than the paintings; that is, they have a scenic quality, even if the scene to which they refer is the dream. In the paintings, on the contrary, there is only unintelligible flux, with little semblance of the real, and this is precisely the dangerous condition that characterizes drive.

Donald Kuspit