New York

Jeff Scher

Maya Stendhal Gallery

The saxophone riff audible on entering the gallery seemed at first an appropriate accompaniment to Jeff Scher’s second solo exhibition at Maya Stendhal Gallery. With its bouncy, singsong tone, the sound track to the video Trixie, 2005, suited the colorful exuberance of the nine large watercolors, two acrylic drawings, three rotoscope animation videos, and nearly six hundred small mixed-media works on view. But the music evokes none of the formal complexity of Scher’s practice, one located in the ever-popular territory between the handcrafted and the mechanical, and exemplified here in the convergence of painting and film.

“Drawn and Quartered,” the title of the show, well describes Scher’s layered method. His works usually begin as short lengths of film, which he condenses into clips, projects onto an animation table, and represents on pieces of paper (often numbering in the thousands) that he then shoots in stop-action video. Arranged as tight sequential grids, the paintings for three new videos, Coke Girl, Woman on the Beach, and Memento Mickey (all 2005), and three older videos, Milk of Amnesia, 1992, Garden of Regrets, 1994, and Lost and Found, 2004, are less studies or raw material than miniature works in their own right, pages torn from a flip book of dizzying chromatic breadth that depict the same subject in various combinations of watercolor, gouache, crayon, colored pencil, and collage. Scher’s skills as a draftsman are on par with his gifts as a colorist: Animals, figures, and faces rendered in spare hatch marks or simple monochrome are as texturally elaborate as those built up from confident strokes of watercolor or in tandem with abstract painterly passages. Many works include collage elements, and while Scher often relies on the medium’s standard fare (a ticket stub, a beer-bottle label, an assortment of French ephemera), he is one of few contemporary artists to employ those free commercial postcards found on racks outside restaurant bathrooms, sixty-four of which were used as supports for the small paintings filmed in Trixie.

Trixie is the densest work in the exhibition. Its monitor screen is trisected, each third strobing with a different postcard image upon which is superimposed a drawing of a comely female face. Movement proceeds from left to right in a rapid, braided undulation, but the effect is oddly less mesmerizing than that of the show’s strongest video, Coke Girl. Its subject looks at first like a dime-a-dozen blonde: An all-American girl drinking the all-American drink, she raises the Coke to her lips and takes a swig with a smile worthy of the Kennedys and none of the awkwardness that often accompanies a big gulp from an oversize bottle. It’s (pop) culture as nurture, sustenance as natural as can be. But in this loop, and in the nine large watercolors of the same woman, Scher manages to convey a startling range of nuance and character (which may explain the wait list for his “video portraits,” the first of which was made for gal-about-town Susan Shin). The subject—indeed, even a trace of subjectivity—is evoked from the most banal of gestures, the specific born of the everyday. Scher’s experimentation across media is rendered no less serious by his humor; the two characteristics intersect in Memento Mickey, a video shot from a set of 170 Disney-brand paint color swatches on which he has painted perhaps the most anti-Mickey icon imaginable, a human skull.

Lisa Pasquariello