Chicago

Sam Prekop

Jan Cicero Gallery

Sam Prekop’s new paintings are so small and pale they almost seem to fade out of view, but their wan delicacy is deceptive. His approach seems so casual, even aloof, that it is surprising how these little paintings read as simultaneously dreamy and attentive. It’s all of a piece, this mixture of what appears as relaxed diffidence with a sudden insistence and focus, and it resides in all aspects of his presentation here, from the sheer number of fairly similar canvases (nineteen in this exhibition, sixteen of which were done in the first three months of 1999) that seem to invite a rapid scan, to their intimate scale (the largest is fourteen by sixteen inches) and narrow range of earthy colors.

Prekop paints his surfaces in monochrome tones of tan or cream or gray and then accretes varying amounts of slight geometric visual incident across their bottom halves. Little squares and rectangles, which can be partly or fully outlined but more often materialize as just patches of color, pile up in seemingly random assemblages, punctuated by the occasional dot, arrow, or mangle. These unevenly scaled quadrangles, whether appearing to be deeply embedded in the picture plane or seeming to drift in and out of focus, their hold on the surface more tenuous and marginal, create a sense of loose and languid space, with some in “front of” or “atop” others. Prekop’s arbitrary and meandering semigrids finally start to suggest something both architectonic and topographic, as if they were describing buildings and villas strewn along some built-up Mediterranean port. In untitled #6,1999, the concentration of forms in the foreground, coupled with the slow curve leading to the background, evokes a city skyline and the random patterns of urbanization, with the same tendency to appear overdeveloped in some places, abandoned in others.

With these intimations of vistas and horizon lines, of structures hugging the sides of cliffs or grounded snugly by a harbor, Prekop offers abstraction as landscape in a kind of impressionism, decompressing some of the stem rigors in the legacy of modern linear abstraction into something more coy and organic. Prekop’s sometimes febrile marks have a rhythm and randomness that suggest an evolving pattern painting rooted in a proliferative energy that seems to exist almost independent of his will. It is abstraction relaxed but not devalued, fragile but not unsubstantial, and in its seemingly tenuous hold on the consciousness of both its maker and its viewer it is curiously evocative and generous.

James Yood