New York

Randy Wray

Kagan Martos

In previous exhibitions, Randy Wray’s pastiches of abstract motifs, lowbrow images, and homespun crafts (needlepoint, cake decorating, macaroni painting) seemed gratuitously chaotic, as if the artist couldn’t decide what to leave out. In his most recent show, he isolated specific images and techniques in paintings that are leaner and more elegant. Although the show included a number of large works, its focal point was an eye-popping, wall-sized grid composed of thirty-six 20-by-16-inch canvases.

Across the expanse of the grid (which becomes a kind of megapainting), certain motifs recur: vibrantly colored Op-art patterns with taped canvas edges; surrealistic relief elements built from modeling paste, paper pulp, and carved Styrofoam; small “pillows” reminiscent of Yayoi Kusama’s protuberances; images of ’30s horror-flick monsters; and paint-by-number scenes of water mills, steeples, and grazing deer. A few of these elements interact on each canvas: seductive colors soften loaded images, rainy-day crafts balance high-art references, and banal images resonate or cancel each other out. Taken as a piece, the paintings suggest an enigmatic algebra of personal taste, weighing, say, monochrome painting against the Wolfman.

In a recent essay on Jessica Stockholder, Peter Schjeldahl commented on the resurgence of formalism in the ’90s as a vehicle for a poetics of “display[ing] the mind in operation.” Wray’s contribution to this revival is a formalist playground in which the eye roams and the mind reflects on its own workings, but to a far greater extent than in Stockholder’s work the field is filled with personal references and iconography stemming from his own psychonarrative. The nubby, genital-like forms sprouting from his canvases, and his monster imagery, suggest repressed phobias (fear of disease, a fear of being “different”) expressed as a series of affronts against the picture plane. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, the elementary-school crafts point to a return of a different sort, that is, primary sources of visual and tactile pleasure.

Tom Moody