New York

Rick Klauber

Brenda Taylor Gallery

Typical of the eight oil paintings in Rick Klauber’s exhibit “The Continuation,” Six Foot High, 1998, is built up of thousands of colored drips. One nears its speckles to experience their oddly chalky luster, only to step back so as not to lose sense of the overall painting. It’s difficult to decide whether these button-size drops were scattered randomly, or if their positions have been determined with care and purpose. Their relatively consistent round shape makes the work’s abstract surface feel more meditative than visceral, yet the dynamism of their apportioning seems as if it could only be the effect of chance.

Klauber’s style briefly recalls optometry tests used to detect color blindness, in which one stares at a field of tinted dots until a numeral stands out But the camouflaged shapes in his paintings suggest weirder and more intriguing associations: animals in fantastic poses, cartoonlike gadgetry, celestial phenomena that look at least as fun as they do strange. Partly because of their Wonder Bread– and toy-inspired hues, many of the works are quite playful—a playfulness that is interestingly matched with what appear to be the paintings’ more serious formal concerns. Klauber seems to be looking to the distinctions between the organic and the inorganic—the natural and the artificial—as well as the interrelatedness of those worlds. For example, the splotchy combinations of pink and milky-green drips in Arch, 1998, bring to mind a fungus, or algae growing on a slab of rock—perhaps the very stone out of which the trilithon murkily depicted in the work might have been hewn. Yet all the forms of life intimated by these paintings emit a peculiar, acetylene aura. This is especially so in the clusters of black and bronze dots that help constitute the brackish vertical rectangle on the left side of Muddy Waters, 1998. And in front of Orange, 1998, one moves from remembering the dismal allure of petroleum slicks in water to a dispassionate apprehension of the reconciliation between the natural and human domains.

There were three large black-and-white oil paintings in the exhibit that seemed to take on nothing less than the cosmos as their subject. In Lacemaker, 1995, swirling clusters of white that recall galaxies stretch a foamy skein over the painting’s dark background. In the stark, predominantly black diptych Rainmaker, 1995–97, Klauber comes closest to abandoning his signature round drip that in Rocket Science, 1995, has become something of an obsession. It’s on these canvases that the artist’s style, pared down to essentials, becomes somehow vulnerable or awkward, an effect that militates against what can begin in some of the other work to feel like primarily decorative concerns.

Abstraction is a natural painterly language for Klauber, and while one can identify a number of gestural abstractionists as his influences (as B. H. Friedman does in his helpful introduction to the exhibition), these paintings mark out unique artistic terrain. They operate as friendly initiations into the processes, chemical and microscopic, through which life draws itself from the inanimate world. One almost suspects they are growing.

Tom Breidenbach