Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2011, Epson UltraChrome K3 ink jet on linen, 9' 1/4“ x 18' 4 1/2”. Galerie Francesca Pia.

Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2011, Epson UltraChrome K3 ink jet on linen, 9' 1/4“ x 18' 4 1/2”. Galerie Francesca Pia.

Wade Guyton

Galerie Francesca Pia

Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2011, Epson UltraChrome K3 ink jet on linen, 9' 1/4“ x 18' 4 1/2”. Galerie Francesca Pia.

“In these days of austerity and cutbacks, the artist is saving ink.” The artist is Wade Guyton, of course, and the wry sentence (Occupy Epson?) is from the press release for his recent two-part exhibition in Zurich. Guyton’s process is now implicit—any lay student of contemporary art knows that he feeds folds of primed canvas into his taxed and sputtering Epson printers—as are the conceptual and critical implications of that process and its resulting works: painting after the fact, postindustrial manufacture of gorgeously distilled canvases offering the retro payoff that comes of echoing the grandeur of Rothko, Newman, and Co. But what makes the New York–based artist’s works so successful is their seeming inevitability, both of form and content. If his artmaking perfectly encapsulates the next dexterous step in Western painting, however, the canvases themselves brim with a seriousness and beauty that shakes off their own fabulous criticality. They don’t necessarily need that conceptual alibi (I think), but having it, well, hey. All right.

If Guyton’s show in Zurich offered no further step into the future, he did indeed—in one new body of works—save some ink. Not in the first part of the show, though, held at the gallery proper. Here he hung two enormous, bannerlike paintings, featuring red and gold horizontal stripes, made to fit two parallel walls. As always, the works took into account the site of their installation, and the image was rendered from a digital file: in this case, a scan of a book’s tattered endpaper, which he also used to create works for his last show at the gallery, in 2007. The image’s literary source fits neatly with Guyton’s past paintings using files of X’s and U’s gleaned from the printed alphabet (language as both fact and sign—the “language of painting,” say—is everywhere in his work), but its stripes also bring to mind Daniel Buren’s vertical versions and Jasper Johns’s flags, sans patriotic stars. Their surface irregularities might look like wrinkles wrought by the breeze, but they are simply printing errors wrought by the scrunching of canvas force-fed through the printer. As ever, Guyton manages to make an elegant material encapsulation of a potent bag of both art-historical and everyday symbols and referents.

The larger installation of new vertical paintings and a series of sober leather couches at a villa in the Zurich hills was an altogether different affair. The canvases were almost uniformly white, with broken bands of black, red, or blue ink along the top, the result of Guyton canceling the printing process almost as soon as it began. Hanging this series of near monochromes amid the how-the-1-percent-lives domesticity of the site, where they were framed by arching doorways and foregrounded by a glittering chandelier, felt like an easy nod to midcentury painting as banal haute-bourgeois decor, but the paintings did not sink heavily into this reference; instead they skipped past it on their way to some strange, new, autonomous world of their own making. A move down the gray scale from Guyton’s recent showings of black and gray monochromes, the pale canvases—streaked with subtle digital errors and photographic scuffs of ink that seemed patently gestural in their mark-making—took the spectator in and kept her there. Saving ink or no, the works were insistently legible.

Quinn Latimer