Los Angeles

Tyler Vlahovich

Goldman-Tevis Gallery

Why are there so few great green paintings? Put another way: Why has no painter (with the possible exception of Jasper Johns) identified with greens the way Philip Guston identified with pinks?

Posed by an intelligent painter who accompanied me to Tyler Vlahovich’s fine debut solo show, these unanswerable questions reflect the terms of my own search for a way to consider painting without provisos. By that I mean paintings unburdened by tired narratives of found stains or pure pigment folded over metal rods like dish towels and unpopulated by interior-design schemata, kitschily bosomed bunny-types, or, worse, badly rendered Northern Renaissance stylings with winking anachronisms (alarm docks, Foucault paperbacks), essentially caricatures less interesting than those found in Mad magazine. I would like to find some way to do this without sliding back into Greenberg’s territory, but then again I’m not too eager to jettison formalism either.

Vlahovich’s work is an exciting case study. Rich with a veritable leprechaun’s stash of magical greenery, the most enthralling canvas here, Large Green Landscape, 2001, burns with an energy sorely lacking in much recent painting in Los Angeles. Imagine a vorticist take on Superman’s crystalline Fortress of Solitude, if it were created out of some jungle verdancy rather than an icy white-blue imaginary. But the painting is unapologetically abstract. Wild angles of variegated greens, slashed by others in umber and black, almost all impossibly springing from a kind of trapdoor, take over every part of the surface. Think early Stella having a nervous breakdown. Yet despite all the dynamics and expanse, the bold and brash facture, the painting is able to downshift rapidly and subtly. After a vibrant rushing green sward among celadon bars comes a quiet moment of a bright grass blade not even four inches long. Pudgy little swirls in navy and brown, as well as a squat little buttockslike form, are tucked in the shadows of the dynamic greens—lime, kelly, sea foam.

Pink and black structure other works. Red Exciting Event and Magenta Energy, both 2000, offer dazzling combinations of rose, stop-sign red, and orange with other, equally hypnotic areas in bare outline. Dark Sleep, 2001, is a night watch of thick black paint on a decrepit panel with a sudden triangle of white at the left edge as counterpoint—or night-light. But because Vlahovich crowded many of his works salon-style in a comer, there was little mace for the viewer to explore the weird shifts and contrasts across the paintings’ vivid greens, hot pinks, and absorbing blacks. For some reason, Vlahovich couldn’t escape the compulsion to apologize for persisting in the medium that, despite repeated obituaries, refuses to die—because it’s undead. The pieces in the comer might have worked well together in some other configuration: Certainly the sculpture on view, The Crystal Event, 2001, a jabbing pile of dark cardboard “nooks,” and the drawings, one a cloud hovering above a plane (Misty Scene, 2000), another an empty comer in an imaginary room, commented on the space and color of the paintings. But in such a jumbled combination, paintings, sculpture, and drawings became merely addenda to each other, literalizing rather than complicating the issues of reference that the paintings raise (i.e., whether or how Vlahovich’s abstraction refers to land- or dreamscape or interiors, if it refers at all). By demonstrating that a painting can be placed on the floor or used as a prop (as in Overcast Landscape, 2001) or that paint can be applied to anything (a wood block, a collapsed cardboard box), Vlahovich seemed—momentarily—to abandon his faith in the psychic, even occult potential of paint itself. Staring at the hypnotic dynamism of Large Green Landscape, considering Vlahovich’s wacky and thrilling use of greens, his acknowledgment of Malevich via Stella and Sonia Delaunay, I didn’t for a moment think painting needed any excuse at all.

Bruce Hainley