New York

Darren Waterson

Charles Cowles Gallery

Whatever else it may be, postmodern painting tends to be art-historically self-conscious, saturated with double entendres, and executed in an astute, “crafty” way: tightly controlled no matter how impulsive and free-spirited it may look, no matter how uncanny the associations it engenders might seem. In such work it becomes impossible to separate the cognitive from the aesthetic. Darren Waterston's exquisite canvases fit the postmodern bill. They use biological imagery—not an overdone, semi-subjective biomorphism but a freshly objective sense of microscopic reality—to create what could be regarded as an eccentric version of Abstract Expressionism but is really too idiosyncratic to be classifiable. At the same time, the works are meticulously painterly—or epically lyrical, to convey the ambiguity that makes them critical. They rearticulate the organic at its most fundamental, which may be the final frontier of visual as well as intellectual mystery.

Thus Lymph Nodes (all works 2001) is an enlarged, beautifully colored “vision” of those oddly elegant masses. But the painting is much more than an aestheticized specimen—it is anatomically accurate, as if based on angiographs. These glands are fundamental for health: The lymphocytes they manufacture are acid for the production of antibodies. The work seems to allude obliquely to AIDS, but it is also an intriguing re-rendering of the abstract sublime, a romantic vision of space inseparable from that of modernist painting. Indeed, Waterston's softer shapes, which resemble ethereal undersea growths, seem to reprise, however covertly and perhaps ironically, Clyfford Still's harsher, more rugged inner edges, which do not so much float in space as anchor it. Waterston's shapes simply hover, though they do suggest the autonomy of the space surrounding them.

To borrow the title of one painting here, Waterston finds all his various materials you“—within the organic mystery of the body. He reminds you that what may seem upsetting or untouchable has been studied and represented by scientists in microscopic detail. Waterston revels in the simultaneous abstraction and concreteness of science. His renderings are biologically correct, like Odilon Redon's ”monsters,“ which were so anatomically accurate that Louis Pasteur thought they ought to have existed. But far from morbidly monstrous, Waterston's abstract representations are exhilarating. Nature is aesthetically ”responsible,“ as Einstein suggested;and as Froth implies, even at its most organically fluid, nature is also aesthetically ”comprehensible" in a perceptual ecstasy. Much the way D'Arcy Thompson, the first biomathematician, found formal correspondences among different structures in nature, so Waterston, exploring cross-references among shapes in animal and vegetable bodies (e.g. between the human throat and a flower in Throat Petals), brings out the inherent abstract/concrete poetry of nature. His paintings are epiphanies that make the devious universality of biological morphologies subtly evident.

Donald Kuspit