Toronto

Kadar Brock

Angell Gallery

Night Time Is the Right Time, Radar Love, and Electric Avenue (all works 2007) were the largest and most arresting pictures on view in Kadar Brock’s recent solo exhibition of abstract paintings, “You Only Live Once.” And despite their sentimentalizing pop-music titles, there was indeed the danger of meeting a clangorous end from cardiac arrest when initially confronted by this discordant mélange of techniques, styles, and colors.

First drawn to the canvases’ garish fluorescent yellows and pinks, the eye then wanders anxiously among an array of layered, juxtaposed, and overlapping geometric shapes. But sustained comparative viewing of the three pictures gradually allows their disorienting jumbles of surfaces and color combinations to resolve themselves into a pictorial vocabulary distinguished by surprising delicacy and sophistication. The cast of characters includes relatively rational, hard-edged triangles that all demonstrate shades of a single color; sometimes these triangles are subdivided, suggesting a diagrammatic context reminiscent of a pie chart. Other clearly delineated forms are heartily filled with roughly textured pigment—often featuring streaks of gray, black, and white, punctuated by flecks of green and pink—applied slowly in a single stroke with a large brush. Such careful deliberation contrasts with the impulsive implication of spray-painted outlines, rendered with an intensity and a pace that make them waver and vibrate—as well as excrete downward drips, which emphasize an easel-oriented verticality.

Elsewhere, viscous paint has been slung from above and allowed to pool. Tiny dribbled rivulets and globules of pigment—perhaps the residua of violent gestural strokes—catch the eye as one scans the more expansive, monochromatic passages. Faintly tinted shapes appear to have been made by applying thin layers of water-based paint over oils. Some sections seem to have been rendered with a house-painter’s brush containing just a trace of gray, displayed starkly against a flat ground in a contrasting shade. There are also areas with a Richteresque scumbled surface, juxtaposed with sharp edges resulting from the judicious use of masking tape.

Brock’s display of diverse paint application methods and textures—each possessing its own temporal and psychological associations, and ranging in feel from the intuitive to the measured—is presented in a nonhierarchical context, in which each element is assigned a comparable importance. No single color is allowed to predominate, either; chromatic identities clamor to declare themselves, like warring neighbors. However, this strategically orchestrated compositional competition is complicated by the repetition of crystalline structures meant to invoke a spiritual realm integral to the artist’s upbringing and objectives.

Accordingly, these works may be loosely associated with a desire for self-summation that draws on a “retrospective” collection of painterly mannerisms, recalling pictures by Jasper Johns from the 1960s such as According to What, 1964. Three smaller pictures here, including Midday Morning Mist, further underlined this drive. This work has been executed with a similarly diversified pictorial language, but obscured by desensitizing coatings of white and pastels; its pseudo-monochromatic surface still contains triangular forms and hints of green, blue, yellow, gray, and other colors, but the process of veiling suggests an act of repression. However, it is Brock’s rawer handling of his vibrant larger works that most productively calls attention to the notion of pictorial disjunction—and, further, to our too often ill-fated strivings for linguistic, spiritual, and emotional unity.

Dan Adler