New York

Roland Flexner, Untitled, 2012, liquid graphite on Yupo, 9 x 12".

Roland Flexner, Untitled, 2012, liquid graphite on Yupo, 9 x 12".

Roland Flexner

D'Amelio Gallery

Roland Flexner, Untitled, 2012, liquid graphite on Yupo, 9 x 12".

Automatism meets science fiction meets the sublime landscape in the one hundred works on paper (all Untitled, 2012) that, along with a single large painting in metal leaf on canvas dating from 1984, made up Roland Flexner’s recent show. Most of the drawings were presented as groups of nine or ten, but they were best taken in either as an overwhelming mass or one by one—that is, as so many manifestations of processes insistently repeated, or as singular expressions of the ever-changing play between intention and chance. Flexner once told the critic Faye Hirsch that his project is twofold: on the one hand, a quasi-scientific endeavor geared toward “documenting the flow of ink and the characteristics of the medium,” and on the other, a pictorial one, concerned with the production of images, each with its own individual character. The investigation of the medium is what becomes manifest across a hundred attempts, but each picture is autonomous.

Flexner, born in Nice, France, but a resident of New York since 1982, has long been investigating the interplay of control and chance in drawing, first with his Bubble Drawings, which he produced in 1995 by blowing a mixture of india ink and soapy water through a tube onto sheets of paper and, later, after a stay in Japan, by working with sumi ink suspended in water. In drawings made this way, he manipulated the ink as it floated on the fluid surface, then pressed a sheet of paper onto that surface to take the imprint of the unstable image he had momentarily composed; once he removed the paper, the artist could continue making adjustments for only a brief time before the ink dried. Like the Bubble Drawings, these works are essentially traces of a moment. The results are often reminiscent of phantasmagorical landscapes, yet at the same time they maintain, if just barely, the status of abstractions. Among these were the works Flexner showed in the 2010 Whitney Biennial.

For his latest drawings, Flexner has changed his technique once more. About half the show consisted of works on the quite small scale (five and a half by seven inches) that has been typical for him and that he made by pouring violet or gold calligraphy ink directly onto the paper and then manipulating it in indirect ways—no brush, no pen. Instead, he controls the flow of the ink by tilting the paper, spraying water on it, blotting the ink, or blowing through straws, thereby obtaining images that we recognize as landscapes, though they resemble none we have ever seen before. The other works on view, somewhat larger (nine by twelve inches) and resembling the earlier sumi drawings, were made with liquid graphite on synthetic waterproof paper. Again, the medium is applied directly to the paper, but since the paper does not absorb it and the ink dries slowly, the extemporaneity that has been central to Flexner’s practice for two decades now is no longer a factor. Yet the imagery still suggests turbulent worlds of Heraclitean flux, full of powerful yet ephemeral effects. These are worlds in which we seem to witness places being born out of formlessness, with light and dark being apportioned as on the day of creation. Yes, some of these images seem eerily still, but the eeriness is that in which one senses a process at work that is about to manifest itself. Although Flexner can now work on his drawings at leisure, they are still landscapes of a moment.

Barry Schwabsky