New York

Andrew Masuillo

Andrew Masullo doesn’t seem to get out much. So slowly and obsessively does he approach the craft of painting that a single canvas might remain in progress for months, even years. For one work, Masullo began by painting hundreds of tiny, glossy, multicolored circles on the canvas. Then, as if he were making a mosaic, he pressed a bit of dried pigment into the center of each one. The results of all that effort are certainly gorgeous to look at.

The mostly small-scale abstract paintings on view in Masullo’s recent show were remarkable for their arresting colors—orange, lime green, yellow, fuchsia—and geometric intricacies. (The artist’s titles are always given according to their successive number in his oeuvre; those here were roughly in the 3,200–3,340 range.) In 3338, 1997, blue, pink, and yellow rectangles fill the surface of the round canvas while the elaborate pattern of hundreds of small, brightly colored diamonds seen in 3213, 1996–98, is like the view afforded by a giant kaleidoscope. Masullo’s patterns evoke ’60s and ’70s pop culture. Some resemble retro interior design motifs, such as busy linoleum floors and psychedelic fabrics, and one can easily imagine the nine rectangles of 3314, 1998, framing the faces of the Brady Bunch in the opening sequence of the television program. This kitsch streak was visible in his earlier efforts, which included paint-by-numbers portraits of puppies and embellished thrift store paintings. 3299, 1997–98, concentrates on the motif of the colored square, here irregularly sized and scattered across a yellow plane, recalling Jan Arp or Ellsworth Kelly’s chance compositions—minus Kelly’s relative flatness or purity. Surfaces are mottled, imprecise, and thick, often because Masullo, rather than use a new canvas, works over paintings salvaged from junk shops, so that there might be a preexisting landscape or portrait underneath.

Even without this underlayer, the works would not be devoid of subjects. Coded references can be found in any given juxtaposition of shapes, which sometimes signify individuals. In one work, the artist and his father are represented by a small sunburst pattern next to a larger one. 3328, 1996–98, initially recalled an Yves Klein monochrome relief: A loose white grid divides dusters of small circular lumps of modeling paste (painted red) on a red ground. The piece is actually an homage to Florine Stettheimer. one of Masullo’s artistic idols, whose name can be spelled out by counting the number of red bumps in each square of the grid. (The top left square, for example, has six units, to signify F, the sixth letter of the alphabet.)

In many ways, Masullo’s entire approach may be considered in terms of increments: the numerical titles and infinitely variable compositions, the manual addition of codelike elements, the gradual buildup of pigment, and the accrual of the many works themselves. The resolute quirkiness of such oblique maneuvers may give cause to dismiss the works as pointlessly arcane or even vaguely adolescent. Yet Masullo’s enterprise is far from being merely a deadpan riddle. The sincerity and idiosyncratic lengths to which he goes to impart meaning are precisely what makes these works stand apart from the slickness of painting’s current revival.

Meghan Dailey