Damien DiBona

Nielsen Gallery

Damien DiBona presents 20 abstract paintings in his first solo exhibition. These meticulously crafted acrylic and oil paintings are quite small, and they represent work made from 1987 to the present. Each of the tabletlike images, which appear either singly or as part of asymmetrical diptychs or triptychs, consists of subtle grounds of glazed color. Except for two solitary images, every composition contains calligraphic information flatly executed upon the translucent surfaces with a template. DiBona’s nonobjective visual language investigates relationships between apparent opposites—the biosphere and the technosphere, the individual and the collective—yet his paintings remain largely intuitive, romantic, and mystical.

Like the construct of these delicate, almost miniaturist images, titles such as A Scenario of Human Yearning, 1989–90, A Condition of Hope, 1990–91, Engineering the Memory in Dislocated Time, 1990–91, and Essentialist Beaming, 1991, suggest existential concerns. In the spirit of William Blake, DiBona creates visual poetry, the recurrent theme of which is creation and the cycle of life. The simple mandalic images are the most focused. Untitled, 1989–90, consists of a central disk intersected by two alternating thin triangles and two missilelike phallic forms inscribed onto a deep earth-toned ground. The central orb floats on its dark ground, and the tabletlike phalluses radiate toward its center and penetrate out into the void. The image speaks of the wonderment of sexual creation, suggesting Blake’s cosmic gouache and watercolor, God Creating the Universe, 1797.

In Earthscape, 1989–90, a diptych that contains several paintings within itself, the smaller left panel consists of a lustrous gray-blue ground overlaid with intricate patterns, carefully realized in high-keyed oranges, golds, black, and gray. The linear hieroglyphs—codelike conglomerations of the primitive and the high-tech—are intended, like the computer chips they resemble, to metaphorically transfer synthetic information from the artist to his audience. The right panel, also compartmentalized, is dominated by a rectangular area glazed to simulate a landscape enclosed by a TV-screen-like framing device. This symbolic scene is surrounded on three sides by delicate geometric configurations of lines and dots that further punctuate the dark surface, suggesting the early pictographic images of Adolf Gottlieb.

Every inch of DiBona’s paintings exhibits his technical expertise, yet the works manage to avoid the precious or decorative. The triptych Journey of the Radiant Body, Going Home to Eva (For My Grandfather), 1991, the largest and most ambitiously lyrical work in the show, is intended as an abstract narrative based on the artist’s 96-year-old grandfather’s passage from life to death. This monochromatic triptych, dominated by moody blacks, blue-grays and whites, itself contains three distinct rectangles arranged asymmetrically, like a medieval altarpiece, the largest panel in the center. The left panel, positioned horizontally, contains a geometric composition that resembles a diagrammatic rendering of rays refracted by an optical lens. This configuration joins with the triangular rays of the central panel, the focal point of which is a graphite ovoid that radiates like a mandala within a rectangular compartment. Thin treelike forms, bereft of leaves, emanate from the central rectangle and evoke a spirit of mordancy. The right panel, which is positioned vertically, is dominated by sharp triangles and diagonal lines that pierce a dramatically whitened ground.

DiBona’s paintings, through his own abstract language, pursue universal truths. At their core, they are religious and meditative, yet the hieroglyphs painted in loud, Day-Glo colors give the paintings a nervous contemporaneity. DiBona’s images are meat to be examined close up and carefully. His pleasure in minutia results in highly varnished palimpsests packed with intriguing visual information.

Francine Koslow Miller