New York

William Wood

Linda Kirkland Gallery

In his grisaille, abstract paintings (all works 1996), William Wood manipulates liquid oil paint with fingers and found objects to create furrows, blobs, and convoluted planes that simulate photographic depth (including subtle touches of reflected light) but retain their character as drips and trails of paint. A curling stroke resembling David Reed’s becomes a Piranesian space; a dragged, Richteresque surface appears convex, like a melting ice floe or globs of mercury. Other canvases suggest cells and body tissues viewed through an electron microscope.

According to a recent catalogue essay by Richmond Burton, Wood prepares his surfaces meticulously, and the final painting is an “adrenaline-fueled event of skill, speed and dexterity.” Despite the implied connection to a heroic gestural tradition, Wood’s marks seem machine perfect, closer to the so-called mediated gestures of Reed and Richter, which mimic photography and minimize expressive facture. It could be argued, however, that Wood’s method is motivated by a third source, closer to Surrealist automatism than to either the related AbEx gesture or ’80s and ’90s meta-abstraction.

Whether one accepts Burton’s claim that Wood is “mov[ing] the medium of painting forward,” he certainly has moved automatism forward, by bringing it into the present. Updating the dreamscapes of Yves Tanguy and Max Ernst, Wood’s paintings reflect a visual milieu of computer graphics, MRIs, and cinematic special effects. And in a sense, Wood has taken the Surrealists’ means of depicting the otherworldly one step further. Unlike Ernst’s masking and retouching of poured paint to find imagery, which involved much conscious modification, Wood’s method creates an instant link between the mind and body of the artist and a plausible imaginary environment. It’s ironic, however, that the mediated gesture should be the midwife for this unconscious expression.

Tom Moody