New York

Dominique Figarella

Caren Golden Fine Art

French artist Dominique Figarella makes relief paintings out of cast-off materials that are either innately light in hue or painted that way—salmon or pale blue or lime green. One painting consists of strands of pink and green gum that have been chewed then stretched around a support. Another sandwiches tennis balls or pieces of roughly shaped foam between a painted wood support and a sheet of clear Plexiglas, with paint oozing out between object and surface. In a third, Figarella wraps wide flesh-colored bandages around the support, squeezing a dark, bloodlike paint into occasional stains throughout the grid these swathes form—to playful rather than sanguinary effect. With its pastel hues and simple, childish materials, Figarella’s work suggests that painting has gone on summer vacation or at least, for a time, has ceased to take itself seriously.

In this, his first one-man show in New York, Figarella offered what may have been a wry meditation on the hyperintellectualized, reductive formalism of the Support/Surface school of French painting (whose adherents include Daniel Dezeuze and Claude Viallat). Literalizing the movement’s distinction between surface and support, not to mention the traditional notion of painting as a “window onto the world,” Figarella detaches the front plane of the painting from the rest of the work, giving it form as a Plexiglas sheet. Executed quickly, sometimes just shortly before installation, Figarella’s paintings possess the extemporaneous, ephemeral feel of Support/Surface, while the lowly, found materials—chewing gum and tennis balls—more readily evoke arte povera, enabling him to convey a distinctive, almost offhand expressiveness.

In Figarella’s work it often seems that much has been achieved by allowing the daydreaming and distractions that necessarily accompany any creative endeavor to assume material form: Plexiglas hangs rather loosely from the four nails that attach it to a wooden support; tennis balls are arranged almost randomly on a plywood surface; foam is tied into a rough knot or quickly modeled into a domelike shape, picked at, sketched lightly with pencil. Figarella selects and arranges his materials with an engaging reticence—there’s never too much, even of the paint smears, which manage to feel at once haphazard and judicious. The playful effects are, in other words, the result of a subtle but canny formal sense.

Faye Hirsch