Chicago

John Torreano

Jean Albano Gallery

In his smallish constructions that dot the wall with a teasing, low-tech playfulness, John Torreano mines some of the formal and cultural possibilities hidden in the abstract shapes of costume jewelry and faux gemstones. These sculptures-cum-paintings reflect Torreano’s endless fascination with the volumetrics of the gems themselves—an octagonal face providing the apex for eight rhomboids, the rhomboid bases then forming the top edges of eight triangles, these triangles then tapering to a point. Again and again he revisits this shifting relation of 8 to 4 to 3 to I, and from plane to volume to point. Torreano relieves this rhythmic faceting of form by constructing his works from colored plywood and by attaching them to the wall in an apparently careless manner, so that it looks as if they were randomly puncturing the wall plane.

Torreano’s constructions involve another, literal act of puncturing; the artist embeds brightly colored false gems—glittering explosions of greens, purples, reds, yellows, and blues—everywhere in his painted surfaces, giving them a kind of visual tintinnabulation of honeyed chroma. These little roundish intimations of splendor (much larger than the “real” jewels they mimic) are liberally sprinkled about Torreano’s geometric work. Their facets twinkle and provide the irrepressible burst of pleasure that gaudy things often do, their very falseness becoming part of their playfulness. The perfect circular holes these gems punch into Torreano’s surfaces are reminiscent of the residue of meteors striking a moon; sometimes they overlap in their seeming randomness, causing no discernible pattern. On occasion the artist organizes the palette of these gem intrusions, placing bright ones into a pale setting or vice-versa, or even utilizing only one shade of stones, but a canny sense of casualness is usually at the fore. In the Black Wall Gems, 1995, several pieces get grouped together, their shapes and sizes placed in interrelating juxtaposition. Torreano’s predilection for arbitrarily applying paint and gems prevents these works from appearing hieratic or solemn. Their geometrical rigor is softened by sentimental associations with gems, which are deeply linked to monetary value and class.

Several examples of what Torreano describes as his “columns”—long vertical wooden pieces that adhere to the wall, less columnar than capsular in shape—were shown as well. Sun Spots, 1995, its white surface studded with literally hundreds of various-sized yellow gemstones, ends up evoking champagne bubbles in a tall glass. In profile, this piece is a riot of sparkling efflorescence, seemingly more gemstone than wood. Acid Burns, 1995, is much more somber, its red surface gouged and pitted by long and deep vertical crevices that Torreano paints black and into which he places more muted gemstones. Regardless of the effect, Torreano’s use of abstraction rooted in social value gives these works a glinting charm.

James Yood