New York

Paul Bloodgood, Objects in Pieces, 2011, oil on board, 48 x 58".

Paul Bloodgood, Objects in Pieces, 2011, oil on board, 48 x 58".

Paul Bloodgood

Newman Popiashvili

Paul Bloodgood, Objects in Pieces, 2011, oil on board, 48 x 58".

Modernism shares with Romanticism a fascination with the fragment, with things that are broken yet by that very fact seem to offer the possibility of recombining to create something new. Collage is only the most obvious manifestation of this outlook, and its history is now a century long. So “Objects in Pieces,” the title of the most recent exhibition by Paul Bloodgood—a veteran, by now, of the New York art scene, but a seriously underknown one—might sound a bit generic. As a gallery press release explains, however, it takes on a more determinate meaning in relation to Bloodgood’s recent work: “In October 2010, the artist suffered a brain injury, which altered his optical system. Bloodgood lost the ability to make perceptual closure, to ‘make whole’ images from objects viewed only in part. The works in this show straddle Bloodgood’s two visual worlds. Before, he would break things apart to understand them, now the converse is necessary—he assembles fragments, reassembles, in order to understand them.” It’s not that the shift from Bloodgood’s earlier work to this new post-traumatic practice, if that’s the right way to put it, is highly marked—in fact, the continuity between the two is notable, and many of the works were begun as long ago as 2008 and finished only in 2011, making it all the more difficult to discern a before and after. But knowing this backstory makes it possible to see the small changes more clearly. In short, the dialectic of part and whole now seems more fraught, less loose and playful than it often did before.

Many of the works on view were collages, part of whose material consists of sections cut from images of Bloodgood’s own paintings. Likewise, the paintings clearly proclaim their derivation from collages—the telltale ragged line of torn paper is seen translated into paint. But curiously, the collages tend to be somewhat denser or heavier in feeling, the paintings more buoyant, even if Bloodgood’s handling of paint has a cultivated roughness. This aspect of the paintings harks back to de Kooning, but these works are hardly direct derivatives of Abstract Expressionism. The difference is that for Bloodgood, the impulsive gesture seems constantly to thwart itself. He often applies paint in indirect ways that work against consistency, and his propensity is to avoid synthesis. He frequently resorts to the grid but not as an organizing device—rather as a local instance of order that concomitantly calls attention to the dishevelment and flux around it. In other words, entropy is the point here, which is why the artist’s authoritative, creative gestures can only intermittently crystallize a responsive order.

And yet the ethos of this work is anything but gloomy or cynical. Bloodgood knows that though you can’t control, you can always connect. Never depicting anything, despite broad but inconsistent hints at landscape, these paintings and collages feel close to reality. There’s a sense of all these fragments being rescued, however temporarily. It extends even to his palette, which leans toward odd, off-key, rather worn-out looking hues; it sometimes feels as if he’s sought out the left-over colors that were on sale because no one else bought them. And he makes something awkwardly beautiful out of them, solid as air.

Barry Schwabsky