New York

Trevor Winkfield

If there’s something impersonal about the blocky but borderline-hallucinatory realm of a Trevor Winkfield painting, this quality can also be seen as a kind of childlike insouciance, finally piercing in its intimacy. Austere and playful, wicked and sacred, antic and serene in equal measure, Winkfield’s meticulously delineated culinary, musical, mythic, and domestic motifs come together into odd and gracious apparitions on the canvas.

Winkfield, a master of proportion, hints at motion as would the maker of an ancient hieroglyphic frieze: via a slight, studied torquing of the work’s overall symmetries. The “female” sign dominating The Garden, 2003, for instance, is situated to the left of center, but our eye is gently provoked into repositioning it—the three red dots at its neck emphasize a slightly queasy feeling of motion. This abstract creature’s head, outlined by a leaf or acorn motif that also makes up its body, contains what could be a bottle, a black sky and deco flower, a gyroscope or sphere, a crisscrossed pole or miter, a hillscape, a tiny yellow wedge atop a curving shaft, and a water droplet. Though Winkfield’s vision is self-consciously pixilated, to judge from these works’ painterly control any emotion has obviously been recalled in steely calm. It’s a sort of conceptual portrait of any of us as we simply continue to live and seek a balance in a universe of contingencies.

Winkfield’s motifs evoke not only our mythic history (as in the case of the Orphic lyre and the guitar on the right in Concert, 2003, or the tilting steeple in the background on the left) but also still more elemental archetypes. Parading with awkward delicacy before us in a brilliant pageant of consumables are fish, squash, strawberries, oranges, and sheaves of wheat; peas in a pod float at the center of the sweetly anthropomorphic figure that anchors The Garden I, 2002; flowers, leaves, and stylized lawns dot many of the paintings; and then there’s the jungle in The Garden IV, 2002, whose breathing is our very own.

Another theme here is art. Bouquet II, 2002, and The Corridor, 2002, both feature easels, though the subject matter of the paintings seems to prefer to float around instead of staying put. It might seem unlikely that an aesthetic so pointedly artificial should contain such a devout appreciation of the natural world. Yet such affection comes off as that much truer for its being embodied in so taut and eccentric a style; the visual puns, the formality in service of the inscrutable or daffy, and the weird shapes that finally resist a read together add up to something more reverent than what any more direct approach might accomplish. What in a base sense might be taken for a raucous, even perverse homage to the daily is also a paean to the other life, whose variety and strangeness extend the possibilities of our own.

Tom Breidenbach