New York

Matt Connors, Picture Corners, 2010, oil, acrylic, colored pencil on canvas, 27 1/8 x 27 1/8".

Matt Connors, Picture Corners, 2010, oil, acrylic, colored pencil on canvas, 27 1/8 x 27 1/8".

Matt Connors

Canada

Matt Connors, Picture Corners, 2010, oil, acrylic, colored pencil on canvas, 27 1/8 x 27 1/8".

YOU DON'T KNOW: As the eponym for Matt Connors’s sophomore show at Canada and the subject of a large-scale photograph therein, this plaintive slogan reverberated through the process-conscious abstractions on view. It was culled from a protest placard spied in a British documentary about 1970s progressive rock and—like so much of prog rock’s esoteric subject matter and often fantastic lyrics—bespeaks an antiauthoritarian sentiment lodged in the chasm between ’60s utopianism and what came after (the “hangover we exist in today, in our post heroic state,” according to the press materials). Yet the phrase resonates at the level of subtext more than of form, since Connors seems to go out of his way to make clear the reasoning behind his compositional choices and the exigencies occasioned by their execution, whether through cockeyed figures, over-painted designs, or rings left behind by paint cans, jars, or coffee mugs (containers he was using at the time to hold paint, gesso, and brushes).

Like the epic concept albums for which prog rock is best known, Connors’s efforts concentrate on big themes: modernism, abstraction, and the monochrome, to name just a few. Gesture is crucial, too, preserved as credible affect as much as procedural happenstance. Indeed, signs of doing and having been done are ubiquitous. From the gorgeously aqueous Table II (16 Cups) (all works 2010), and its aforementioned celestial pockmarks (stubborn indexes of containers, left behind as Gottlieb-like aesthetic incident), to Correspondences, and its more evidently and deliberately manipulated tie-dye-like stain, the supports are critical—as repositories for the paint and the action undertaken to get it there, but also as sites of physical as much as theoretical resistance, from which something worthwhile was wrested. Lest this read as a stout exploit, Correspondences and others send up action painting and Color Field alike (to wit: the recoding of Barnett Newman’s phenomenological and spiritual geometry in the vertical streaks of DBCWMCV), preferring a conceit that leaves such referents securely in scare quotes.

Yet Connors attends so carefully to the stylistic and material conventions of painting that one begins to question his seemingly detached relation to them. Picture Corners, a reasonably small panel, employs three devices to emphasize the frame—large black triangles fixed to the corners of the piece, just shy of its edge; an unpainted perimeter; and a thin blue line traced a little ways in—all of which call attention both to the canvas and to the drips, fields, and shapes it harbors. Similarly, Correspondences (frame) offers an off-kilter double frame as the nominal subject and image, and in the subtle Framed, pea-green and peacock-blue blotches and thinly rendered black squares interrupt a surface framed by a casing of black artists’ tape. While neither overprecious nor overworked, these pieces nonetheless admit an attention to particulars rather than perform generic abstractions.

If anything, “You Don’t Know” sketched a position of engagement with the medium. This was evident not only in the works’ range of internal and explicit concerns, but also in the show’s calculated hang: Paintings were mounted on and leaned against the wall, and in two sculptures, colors from adjacent paintings were presented as monochrome C-prints that, rolled in on themselves, were large enough to stand. The show’s perspective suggested that the difference between earnest determination and ironic conciliation has grown increasingly thin. With its conspiracy-theory intimations, the title offered a fitting backdrop, one more paranoid than disinterested. Connors is chasing giants, even though he knows a windmill from something worse.

Suzanne Hudson