New York

Nicholas Maffei

M-13 Gallery

Nicholas Maffei’s abiding interest in the relationship between light and dark (both as pictorial fact and as metaphorical presence), coupled with his imaginative articulation of organic forms, suggest the early influence of Bill Jensen more than that of either Minimalism or Pop art. In his recent paintings, however, in which he lays down thick layers of black paint and then scratches through the tarlike surfaces until the white under-painting reveales itself in slightly wavering lines, Maffei has entered a territory all his own.

Like Maffei’s earlier works, the recent compositions are symmetrical and tend to rely on large, centrally located images. However, while his earlier paintings were influenced by American Modernists such as Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove, his recent works seem more gritty and urban. This is due not only to the black paint’s resemblance to roofing tar, but to the scratched surfaces and the incorporation of building materials, such as screws and nails imbedded into the wood panels, often in circular or repetitive patterns. By incorporating these elements into the paintings, the artist is able to divert the viewer’s attention from the image, heightening his or her awareness of the work’s surface and his quirky use of materials.

The imagery, evoking the ocean and outer space, seems provocatively at odds with materials that suggest the decaying city. On the one hand, the artist taps into invisible worlds—both the one we cannot see without the aid of a microscope and the one we carry inside our heads that is irrational and animated by a sense of dread. On the other hand, the common building materials counter the romanticism of the painter isolated from the world.

The contrasts of paint and building materials give Maffei’s paintings an unexpected dimension. By nonchalantly bringing objects of this world into the work, he is able to contextualize his painted imagery in a way that is very different from that of most abstract artists, animating the organic and biomorphic forms in a whole new manner.

John Yau