John Pomara

Barry Whistler Gallery

As if to underscore the recursive character of John Pomara’s process, the prefix “re-” appeared in the titles of all the paintings in his recent show. Although originally derived from photomicrographs of living cells, the artist’s abstract disks have pursued an independent evolution for several years, attending more to modes of representing than to the vagaries of their source per se. What was biological information has become a gestural mark, embedded both in the fluid sensuality of his medium and in the current history of painterly mark-making conceived as immediate evidence of the artist’s hand.

Using a Plexiglas straightedge like a squeegee, Pomara pulls ghostly trails down from his carefully painted shapes, both recording his own motion and suggesting the forms’ movement on the still surface. By timing the action to a critical moment in the drying process, he achieves a quality of mark that balances delicately between Expressionist gesture and the sort of blank impersonality one associates with Pop. Traces of his hand are only barely evident, as if it were impolitic (or at least impolite) to assert oneself too much after Warhol and the cool criticality of neo-geo.

Beyond calling into question the use of any tools—brushes included—as devices for expression, Pomara’s technique also yields gorgeous paintings. The artist exhibited only works on canvas in this show, but recently he has produced serial works using photocopiers, a logical extension of his pictorial investigations. The issues at stake are fundamental to painting as a meaningful practice, given a visual environment saturated with television, computer screens, photojournalism, and various hybrid media.

The eight 24-by-18-inch canvases collectively titled “Re-Fund,” 1998, read like a series of stills from a film portraying black and yellow cells dividing, mating, and perhaps devouring one another in a viscous white environment. The changes from one panel to the next reiterate the implied movements within each canvas. Scraping the paint fuses the forms with the ground so that they seem sealed inside the glossy surface, just as a photographic image is in the emulsion or a digitized picture is in the phosphors of a cathode-ray tube.

Even though they were individually titled, the four larger paintings in the show were also elements of a series. Pomara has pared down the number of cells that populated his paintings just two years ago to only a few plate-sized black and blue disks, leaving wide expanses of white around them. In Re-Wind, 1998, a single black cell remains, surrounded by a thin blue corona and hovering low in a nearly uninflected field. An apparent endgame compositional strategy like this risks boredom and banality. But in the plenum of all that whiteness, there are possibilities for paintings that address our visual surround and move on.

Michael Odom