Lisa Milroy

The four paintings of collections of plates in this exhibition might seem at first to be characteristic of Lisa Milroy’s work. In fact, both the subject matter and the principles by which it is organized on the canvas are very different from her earlier work. A degree of randomness has appeared in Milroy’s new paintings. They are still surfaces showing things that have been, in one sense or another, ordered, but now the vagaries of nature are seen to have had a hand in their organization. Whereas the earlier paintings depicted commodities and the values associated with their conspicuous consumption, these works present an altogether altered picture. Repetition no longer means luxury and excess, but points us instead to the bargain basement. Variety has ceased to represent a range of available options, and now signals at best the inclusiveness of the collector’s eye, at worst the pressure of necessity. The consistent colors and willow-patternish designs among the items in one painting, Plates, 1992, could just be the result of assiduous searching, but the crockery in at least two of the other canvases with the same name looks as though it had been garnered from numerous excursions to the junk shop.

Types continue to be important for Milroy. A number of the paintings in “Landscapes,” 1993, depict less specific places than the idealized, panoramic versions of locations found in brochures and travelogues. Half a dozen small images in “Cities,” 1992, while no doubt of identifiable sites, give as much a sense of notions of the city as of geographical exactitude. A sequence of five works from “Flowers,” 1993, shows healthy clumps of each species, somewhat as one would expect to find them illustrated in the gardening encyclopedias, rather than a close examination of single specimens. Specimens, however, do crop up in another series, “Rocks,” 1992. Twenty-four small pieces of rock, each one painted on its own canvas, against backgrounds in different shades of gray are not graded throughout the piece, but dispersed randomly across the rectangular arrangement of the 24 canvases. There is an echo of Gerhard Richter’s color-chart paintings here as there was, obliquely, in Milroy’s abstract grid paintings of a couple of years ago. Another group of works are bird’s-eye views of featureless, monochromatic expanses peopled with crowds of varying density.

Although the subject matter and some of the themes have shifted, others of Milroy’s preoccupations persist. Her interest in painting and the decorative surface, for example, remains intact. One of the paintings in “Plates,” 1992, has four horizontal bands of neatly arranged tableware. There are, from top to bottom, four, six, three, and five rows of the four different patterns, and each type is shown from a different vantage point, thereby inducing folds, if not in the painting’s surface, then certainly in the idea of the painting’s surface. In addition, though, there is now a much greater interplay between the objects pictured and the painterly means Milroy adopts in order to depict them, as though the agendas of the commodity paintings and of the abstract grids had been laid one over the other.

Michael Archer