New York

Peter Schuyff

Peter Schuyff’s work was first received in the early ’80s among a host of ironic gestures, which included Philip Taffe’s appropriation of exhausted styles in decoupage, Meyer Vaisman’s reduction of the painting to a cartoon of the surface it is wrought on, and Peter Halley’s minimal cells. What separated Schuyff from the rest of these artists was a bat’s squeak of traditionalism. His work allowed for a degree of less mediated painterly pleasure and a transition from painting to painting predicated on overtly formal issues. Schuyff had no specific bone to pick with formalism; instead, he honed in on a playful brand of irony that could embrace, as well as pastiche, both Modernist formal conventions and illusionism.

If irony can be thought of as the gulf between expectation and fulfillment, or as the illusion of fulfillment, then tromp l’oeil and painterly illusionism more generally are effects easily made ironic; with both, the eye’s desire for volume is ultimately disappointed by the flat, unbroken picture plane. Schuyff has gotten seemingly unlimited mileage out of his brand of seductive tromp l’oeil abstraction, and, within his narrow conception of painting, he has elaborated a catalogue of exquisite illusions: biomorphic fantasies, sunspotted checkerboards, warping and fading grids, and illusionistic blobs defacing paintings by anonymous academicians.

Although Schuyff’s recent show consisted of only three works, they are the strongest ones that he has exhibited in several years. In these pieces, he achieves an even more perfect balance between the deceptive quality of the illusion and the fact that the images are not really meant to deceive. The process of painting is always admitted: by the matt surface, the washes of dark color used to produce chiaroscuro effects, and the networks of transparent aquatic brushstrokes that are perceptible even at a distance.

All three canvases here are tall verticals. One painting (all works Untitled, 1990) is striped horizontally in alternating blue and red bands, modeled to produce along surfboard shape. (The effect suggests an upholstered rectangle with the shape quilted into it.) Another is striped vertically in mustard and aqua with curvaceous zigzag “quilted” horizontals. And the third—a mossy yellow-green and blue checkerboard is punctuated by small circles painted to resemble cloth-covered upholstery buttons that seem to create indentations in the cushiony picture plane. This painting has been left blank (white) at the very bottom as if Schuyff had stopped just short of finishing it a cloying detail given the fact that it is abundantly clear, even in “finished” paintings, that the aim of his process is to make paintings that are revelatory of the conditions of their own fabrication.

Schuyff’s recent visual twist—the illusion of an upholstered surface—pushes the subtle irony of tromp l’oeil in the direction of comical pastiche, as the stripe, checkerboard, biomorphic curve, and circle begin to refer more to furniture than to their meanings and appearances within the history of abstraction. Within Schuyff’s practice—one that has developed in tiny increments and involves not only a high degree of serial repetition but also a rigorous pursuit of perfection—this new subtly comic twist constitutes a decisive leap.

Matthew Weinstein