New York

Sam Reveles

CRG Gallery

Blazing through the sleepy terrain of formalist painting, the four paintings and three drawings that comprised Sam Reveles’ first New York solo show evoked the tough-but-delicate sensibilities of Jackson Pollock and Brice Marden (Reveles was once an assistant to the latter). His titles alone suggest a scrappy machismo: words like “cock,” “stallion,” “eagle,” “buck,” “Brando,” and “McQueen” crop up a lot, but rather than buttressing a pose, they signal genuine bravado. Madly slashing, mussing, and intersecting lines of paint across subtly washed grounds, Reveles lacerates the flat surface with the metal side of a brush handle to create works that suggest the savagery of the natural world.

Brando Chavez Ring, 1994, which nearly covered the expanse of one wall in the upstairs gallery, is a giant bramble the color of rust or red clay. Its thickets of paint rise from the surface and extend edge to edge. Here, as elsewhere in the show, Reveles proves that when it comes to creating pictorial excitement the shortest distance between two points is a perversely meandering system of lines that create competing but interdependent force fields. The result: a precise disorder. His feisty scrambles across the canvas only appear to be random; beneath the frenzied surface is a deliberating poet, one who thinks with his hands. He doesn’t so much draw a line as draw it out, investigating the limits of variation and nuance. His exuberant scrawls compulsively seek out the edges of the frame, twining the nimble with the staid, the sturdy with the frail, doubling back, inching forward, dripping down, pooling, drifting off.

Across the room and downstairs, in the lake-blue regions of Stallion, 1994, and Stallion Eagle Jaguar, 1994, a refined structural technique began to reveal itself. Here Reveles divided the canvas into wider spatial intervals, grouping the complex scatter of his lines to one side, loosely working them from the inky to the diaphanous and letting the more ambitious among them grope across the waxy-looking ground. But in McQueen Hipodromo Chavez, 1994, all hell breaks loose. Muted earth colors coagulate in an ill-mannered snarl of muddy roots and scratches, launching a terrific assault on the surface. There was a sense of urgency to this work, but it lacked the clarity of the other paintings or the textural beauty and complex tonality of the drawings.

In the end, taking in this show was like hacking a path through a chaotic jungle to reach, not a clearing, but the vision of one beyond—a vision that invited deeper engagement and gave way, very suddenly, to a peculiar intimacy with the ineffable.

Linda Yablonsky