John Fraser

Roy Boyd

Up, down, left, right—the seeming inexhaustibility of the possible formal (and even psychological and emotive) variations in the geometric structure of the grid is what maintains its curious hold on our consciousness. John Fraser functions as a kind of grid antiquarian, embellishing nascent grids discovered in found objects, elevating the salvaging of spent cultural artifacts above mere nostalgia by virtue of the undimmed pertinence of the geometric play embedded in them.

In most of his recent work Fraser uses old books as his primary source material. It is solely the physical structure of these artifacts that interests him; in no instance here do we have any way of knowing which volumes he deconstructs. He removes all text, all the pages, leaving only the books’ front and back covers and the spines that join them. He then mounts these emptied vessels onto a wood construction so that the “front” of the book is hidden. All that remains visible is the muted interior of this shell, dominated by (usually blank) endpapers.

The inside of the spine is marked only by discolored glue and torn bits of string, the only trace of the text it used to cradle. A mottled ecru, a pale tan veneer of age, dominates, but Fraser often also employs light coatings of acrylic varnish and passages of graphite to further even out the spent tomes’ dun surfaces and patch up their broken lines. Little bits of the colored covers that wrap around the books’ inside edges border these wan fields, providing visual relief in traces of yellow, blue, red, black, orange, gray, brown, white, or purple. The artist displays most of these literary cadavers with the spines arrayed horizontally, further distancing the objects from their original use.

In a second group of four works, Fraser uses found wooden embroidery hoops as a central element. The geometric purity of these perfectly oval or circular objects is emphasized by traces of use they retain, and by their evocation of the handicraft of another age. They have a poetic dignity that seems to call for little more than re-presentation. In Two Forms (open & closed), 2007, Fraser hangs a hoop from a small steel hook above a rectangular piece of gray tin. Both elements are coated with a thin layer of wax, unifying their surfaces, making the work as much about the intercourse of the circular and the rectangular as about that of the past and the present, the functional and the abstract, the pre- and the post-industrial. This attentiveness to subtle harmonies rooted in a geometry inflected by the residue of human touch, which both resurrects and reinvigorates its sources, is central to these modest and profound acts of retrieval and rediscovery.

James Yood