New York

Jacqueline Humphries, Untitled, 2012, oil on canvas, 90 x 96".

Jacqueline Humphries, Untitled, 2012, oil on canvas, 90 x 96".

Jacqueline Humphries

Jacqueline Humphries, Untitled, 2012, oil on canvas, 90 x 96".

In our troubled economy, some people are putting their money into gold. How’s silver doing? In her latest series of abstract paintings, Jacqueline Humphries continues to mine the pictorial and affective valences of silver metallic paint, which appears as the ground in all the pictures. Humphries is someone for whom the political and philosophical questions of representation matter—a critical rather than unambiguously “feeling” type. But vivid, even uncomfortable feelings continue to pull at you, to nag in spectral and parodistic ways. The element of parody does not evacuate emotion; self-conscious feelings are nothing if not acute. Storm and stress, light shattered, no single point of view, nowhere to stand. Nothing could be more perverse than standing in front of one of Humphries’s paintings and maintaining a rigidly stationary pose. The canvases build and recompose themselves with respect to one’s relative position.

Painting hardly needs another revival, although it seems, of late, that it is fashionable to speak about such a renewal with force and intelligence. Achim Hochdörfer, in a 2010 debate with Isabelle Graw stemming from an article by Hochdörfer published in these pages, argued that the influence of a certain stream of critically marginalized 1960s painting is reviving interest in the medium among artists who “have in the past tended to approach painting with skepticism.” Humphries can be seen as someone who has anticipated this tendency for some time. A filthy soot rains on this nymphéas, as if industrial waste had blanketed Giverny. Humphries’s gestures, gouged into argentine surfaces, seem to freeze out a predictably illustrative psychological effect. Lyrically abstract, these works are not. The feeling might be as much about disgust in the face of so much feeling, so it’s a feeling anyway. Humphries’s relationship with AbEx gesturalism is by turns disingenuously kittenish and downright slutty. Hard-hearted but by no means dead.

It’s not just the scraping in Humphries’s canvases that recalls Gerhard Richter’s work; both of them share ambivalence toward the legacies of abstraction. Richter dwells on the hopelessness of the desire for heroic painting, in the process becoming a heroic figure himself. Humphries, by contrast, worries the impossibility of authenticity in life no less than in painting. Her surfaces remind me of the aestheticized mayhem of torture-porn cinema. Some of the paintings look positively violated. I imagine the artist’s satisfaction in fashioning pictures through deformation: knives dragged through flesh, crusty black blood, marks like bruises, a startling eruption of foolhardy pink curlicues.

But then if I see a forest in a particular painting, is it because my reprobate and childishly spooky sensibility insists on seeing in the tectonic plates, the shifting sharp angles, the tricks of light and a strange dull silver—in all this abstraction and set dressing—the tracks of an elemental nature? I have an image in mind, kind of a Lars von Trier Antichrist image, of a woman kneeling on a perfectly cultivated, mowed lawn, and then reaching into the sod and ripping it apart. (Maybe it doesn’t have to be a woman—I’ve seen men do things like that, at least in movies.) Her hands furiously rake the ground, massacring daisies. Her nails slice through innocent earthworms that nonetheless bloody her fingers with their interior goop: the interior goop of all of us, human and earthworm alike, something foul. “The lawn is all torn up.”

David Rimanelli