New York

Denyse Thomasos

Using a flat brush an inch or so in width, Denyse Thomasos applies bands of thinned-down acrylic paint to canvas in a relentless crisscrossing motion, building up dense, kaleidoscopic records of the process. The hatching is loose and gestural in her small-scale works, but as the paintings become larger (up to 10 by 16 feet), the grids grow stiffer, even volumetric, suggesting rows of stylized buildings. Some of her lines are uncannily straight, as if made by a monomaniacal sign painter, while others are erratic, leaving drips that complicate (and energize) the skewed cubic forms.

Compared to classic gestural abstraction, Thomasos’ marks seem playfully robotic, and her flirtation with illusionism introduces narrative (the city-as-prison, stretching to infinity) to a style historically hostile to such interpretations. Yet one still wonders whether her repetitive striping constitutes much more than a vehicle for formal decision-making. Compared to the media-wise, semiotics-influenced work of recent abstractionists such as Lydia Dona, Fiona Rae, or David Reed, her oeuvre seems like an inexplicable throwback to the ’70s, concerned with color harmony, push-and-pull, and other aesthetic niceties.

The artist, born in Trinidad, speaks of the work in terms of ethnic roots and the struggle against oppression, likening her paintings to African textiles and her brushstroke to the “lash” of slavery. One can see the textiles in the paintings’ patchwork construction, but surely the “lash” is about pain, experienced in the real world, in real time, while these methodical marks have more to do with mechanization and distance (handled with a paradoxical exuberance). It’s conceivable that ’70s formalism might be reconciled with the multiculturism-cum-identity-politics of the ’90s, but these paintings are too rooted in the former to convince us that such a synthesis is truly at stake.

Tom Moody