David Dupuis

Turner & Byrne Gallery

According to Arthur C. Danto, art “ended” with Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box so now artists can choose to be any kind of artist they want. They can be Abstractionists, performance artists, Conceptualists, or switch back and forth among these, even on the same day. Just because artists are free from the forward march of art history, however, doesn’t mean they are free from their own compulsions; if anything, these compulsions will continue to sustain art when the historical reasons for making it have gone away. The strength of David Dupuis’ art, for example, is rooted precisely in his lack of choice. Dupuis doesn’t appear to have chosen to make the intricate mazes of cut paper that grow like coral formations across the surfaces of his canvases—any more than a doodler chooses to fill pages with concentric circles or Simon Rodia chose to build the Watts Towers.

The obvious difference between Dupuis’ work and the outsider’s or doodler’s is a quality of reflectiveness. With Dupuis one senses the mind of the artist trapped in the body of the obsessive, watching in detached horror (or amusement) as paper mazes are glued onto canvas one painstaking strip at a time, overpainted with veils of color and forests of drips, covered with more strips of paper, and so on. The artist may occasionally alter the flow of this activity but the obsessive works on, synthesizing gesture and geometry in rectilinear spirals that are sometimes inexplicably torn off, leaving pentimenti in the form of meticulously applied glue trails.

Despite their connection to the tradition of automatic writing, Dupuis’ mazes are more compelling as formal research than psychological drama. Rather than communicating the terror of confinement or the feeling of being lost in a vast incomprehensible system, the labyrinths are simply there to be contemplated. However, in a large canvas called The Wait, 1993, the mazes serve as background elements for a pyramid of brightly colored, elongated bench-shapes. Dupuis assembled the structure without the use of a T-square or carpenter’s level so it tilts slightly and appears to buckle at the sides. Looking raw and vulnerable before a scumbly-blue, abstract sky, this sagging ziggurat couples grandeur with failure, demonstrating how small subversions can undermine the architecture of power. By emphasizing this iconic element in his work, Dupuis successfully presses his obsessive patterning into the service of metaphor.

Tom Moody