New York

Paul Henry Ramirez

Caren Golden Fine Art

Paul Henry Ramirez’s sexed-up, candy-colored confections are like a fantasy dreamed up by Willy Wonka and Joan Miró, carbonated with ’60s Pop. All loopy frivolity balanced with precision-tuned sensuality, the works in his most recent show, entitled “Real Pretty Simple Innocent Paintings,” are dominated by geometric blocks and bands of color, serving variously as stabilizers or launching pads for a giddy array of smaller elements. In each piece (all untitled, 1998), blobs, dots, and dots-within-dots in hot hues (magenta, orange, acid green, lemon yellow) and cool pastels (pale pink, baby blue) comingle with elaborate bunches of black, hairlike tendrils, as they bounce along or float by other blobs and bands in flesh tones of chocolate brown, bland beige, piglet pink The tendrils spiral in singular ecstasy or sprout, en masse, along a band of color. The shapes are both amorphous and amorous, reminiscent of nipples, testicles, penises, and breasts, especially since many of them seem to be excreting fluids.

What does it all add up to? Think melting ice cream sundaes and pubic hair run amok. Hard candies and the soft push of flesh into flesh. Penetration, excretion, and effervescence. Spilled Kool-Aid, eyeballs and olives, alien life-forms. Cheery innocence and erotic abandon.

Ramirez’s paintings aren’t so much riots of free-form, spontaneous expression, however, as tableaux of abstracted erotica: calculated, even mechanistic displays, like the output of some pleasure-producing machine gone awry. The compositions, so flat they seem squeezed into an airless void between sheets of glass, are ruled by verticals and horizontals. Despite upward splashes and sideways drips, gravity usually prevails, but the one constant is a sense of motion, from the viscous, lava-lamp flow of the larger elements to the jittery capriciousness in showers of multicolored dots.

On the gallery’s back wall, one painting seemed held in place by the tension between blocks of color painted onto the wall on either side. A black strip along the canvas’s right edge—linked by a horizontal line to a thicker, floor-to-ceiling strip in the right corner of the room—seemed to push the painting to the left, into a large flesh-colored rectangle, which had indentations where it “gave way” to the canvas. At last summer’s “Pop Surrealism” exhibit, at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ramirez’s stark, sexy lexicon escaped the confines of white cotton duck altogether; in Unruly Acts, 1998, which was commissioned specifically for the show, his signature forms took over the walls of the museum’s three-story atrium like a band of exotic life-forms conquering new territories.

Ramirez is both a sensual formalist and a formal sensualist, a kind of Don Juan who applies his talents to painting, drawing from a big bag of tricks in a single-minded drive to please the eye and pleasure the mind. At some point, one can’t help but wonder where he’ll go next with this aesthetic, but for now, enjoying these paintings, like sex, is all about being in the moment.

Julie Caniglia