Los Angeles

Andrew Masullo

Daniel Weinberg Gallery

Despite key lime, hot pink, cerulean, stop-sign red, rain-slicker yellow, whether arranged in quasi-modern geometries or lava lamp bubbles, many of Andrew Masullo’s strangest and strongest works deploy white as simultaneously positive and negative space. In the dinky 3713, 2000, two “teeth” bite into part of a red star; the fried egg– white surface of 3156, 1995–2000, puckered and crunchy, is about the size of a fried egg, sunny-side up, the yolk a variegated posy. A white, curved “cloud,” like the soft explosion announcing the arrival of another outré relative on Bewitched, envelops most of the tart verdant ground of 4525, 2005–2006; red squares dot it, and red semicircles crimp its edges. More than a few of the paintings seem dimmed by dust, as if they had been resting in an attic prior to making their debut.

The sharpest critical responses to Masullo’s work, while invoking its apparent “carnival mood” or palette at risk of “sugar shock,” note, as critic Ken Johnson does, other crucial strains: what might be called recalcitrance with “a retrospective pathos underlying the jaunty surface.” Imbued with an idiosyncratic intensity, Masullo’s questioning, nonobjective, and/or not easily referential paintings suggest the “personal” as a permissible critical tack. But I am as wary about the utility of this mode as I would be about any strictly formalist analysis, or of one yoking Masullo’s project to a lineage of artists from Joseph Cornell, Paul Klee, and Florine Stettheimer to Forrest Bess, John Wesley, and Mary Heilmann.

This tight survey included work made between 1992 and 2007, the selected paintings ranging in size from the petite (displayed in a suite hung salon style) and the small (one group hung in a sequence of nine) to the fairly large. What might be called Masullo’s provocations jettison such uninterrogated pieties as stylistic progression and conceptual programmatics—which is not to say that his paintings don’t have loads of style or that he isn’t thinking through some serious matters (does abstraction work syntactically? Is color its vocabulary or, rather, its framework or foundation? When and how does pattern invoke or become the symbolic?).

All his untidy activity of experimentation continues rather than, as is the case with so many painters, freezing into a stylistic device. Nowhere is Masullo’s antipathy and invention more apparent than in his two rainbow-vortex paintings, 2811, 1992, and the twin star of 3216, 1996–97: Both drolly, proleptically out-Grotjahn Mark Grotjahn. Masullo’s refusal of the safety of such trademarked stasis has its consequences. “This is a vulgar age / Sighed the violet / Why must humans drag us / Into their silly lives / They treat us / As attributes / As symbols / And make us / Fade / Stink,” Stettheimer wrote in “The Revolt of the Violet.” Masullo takes up the revolt, his work a rebuke, tender violence puzzling painting’s status quo.

Bruce Hainley