Los Angeles

Stan Kaplan

Mary Goldman Gallery

In vivid coloration, gestural exuberance, and overall scale, Stan Kaplan’s second show of abstract canvases at Mary Goldman Gallery notably ratcheted up the ambitions of his first. This is painterly painting in the “grand manner,” recalling the exertions of the New York School without a trace of irony, or even ambivalence. The various alibis that have enabled returns of this sort over the past twenty years, from Appropriation to Simulationism, have been discarded so that the artist may, once again, face down the tundra of the gessoed surface as if for the first time, contending with this, and only this, space. Or so it would appear. In fact, every generation must reinvent the wheel, but not without accounting for all the wheels already invented.

Kaplan, a 2001 Art Center College of Design MFA graduate, has taken to heart Professor Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe’s formulation of an alternative legacy, one based more on Matisse than on Picasso, more on Deleuze than on Greenberg. What this approach implies is the sacrifice of “rightness”—the pursuit of an aesthetic rule that, once found, may be endlessly repeated—in favor of sensual experiment and heterodoxy. More prosaically, it enables the use of colors like the pink of Painting with Pink and Blue (all works 2005), colors that mess with gender assumptions, colors that are “pretty” rather than beautiful, designerly rather than organic. Observed up close, moreover, Kaplan’s often cavalier paint handling flirts with outright ugliness. His surfaces are thin and coarse, yet this crudeness is our first clue to the underlying seriousness of his project.

Kaplan avoids the trap of what Gilbert-Rolfe dismisses as “one-idea art” by constantly changing course, reformulating the measure of his achievement with each new work. As a student, he began by trading in his brushes for a single brand of ink pen, filling canvases with fine, weblike skeins that fluctuated between the flatness of line drawing and a hallucinatory depth. As one after another the pens were gradually emptied of ink, they could be made to yield a wide range of tonal gradations from dark to light, a technique that Kaplan duly mastered. Next, he embarked on a series of modestly scaled oil paintings, united only by their production schedule: one per day. Here, also, an incremental process was made evident: With each successive work, Kaplan introduced a new gesture, mark, color, or surface treatment. This methodical yet still highly subjective acquisition of a painterly lexicon, seemingly from scratch, brings us up to date.

Kaplan’s recent paintings are both of and about this process. Comprising the full range of technical moves that he has spent the past five years patiently developing, they are “wholly-made”—nothing in them falls outside the compass of this artist’s production history. As his compositions grow more varied and intricate, however, a curious thing happens: They begin to show through to a historical archive of images, mostly representational or teetering on the cusp of abstraction. Depending on one’s vantage point, each painting corresponds—to a greater or lesser extent—to some telling precedent, from the Blaue Reiter to Fauvism or Impressionism. I’m convinced, for example, that lurking somewhere within Painting with Red and Grey is Seurat’s Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte. Ostensibly purged of all worldly and/or cultural references, it is as if the deep memory of the medium itself has been unlocked.

Jan Tumlir