Nick Mauss, nervous system, 2014, powder-coated steel, acrylic, 65 × 86".

Nick Mauss, nervous system, 2014, powder-coated steel, acrylic, 65 × 86".

Nick Mauss

Campoli Presti | London

Nick Mauss, nervous system, 2014, powder-coated steel, acrylic, 65 × 86".

Nick Mauss’s work embodies drawing—which may come as a surprise, considering that, at first glance, his latest exhibition consisted of six cut powdered-coated-steel sculptures, four plaster wall pieces, and one work in aluminum leaf. That is, the activity of drawing seems less prominent in these works than the things themselves as constructed material objects. For example, place of blurring, 2014, is drawn and painted on a rectangle of plaster held by wire mesh in a wooden frame, while nervous system, 2014, is a linear wall relief made out of cut steel covered with patches of green acrylic paint.

Although in all these works the emphasis is as much on material and process as it is on the construction of an image, they encompass drawing in their flatness and emphasis on line and gesture—for instance, the charcoal markings that were applied to the then-not-quite-dry plaster in place of blurring. It is in the tension among these three aspects that Mauss’s art resides. The image comprises a series of sketchy gestures with a light-blue wash on half the surface, just barely hinting at a grouping of figures. Elements of exposed mesh—where the plaster has not fully covered the fresco-like surface, breaking the seamlessness of the picture making—add another reminder of the awkward tension between representation and physical object. Mauss’s imagery seems to evoke indistinct art-historical allusions, but the images are abstract in the sense that, despite their hints at figuration, they remain indefinite. Heads and limbs are suggested in a number of the pieces, but the closest thing to a truly representational element, drawn on another plaster piece, even with closed eyes, 2014, is the semblance of a hand—perhaps a metaphor for the activity of drawing itself. In nervous system, the lines of cut steel hint at what might be a fragment of a group portrait that has been magnified and then inverted.

Foregrounding the experimental nature of his process—in particular with the plaster pieces—Mauss creates a sense that the works are being glimpsed as they come into being, both as drawing and as object. His 2012 exhibition at the 303 Gallery in New York was titled “The desire for the possibility of new images”; it would seem that this sense of coming into focus is what his work entails. It’s as if he’s trying, with determined and deliberate thoughtfulness, to create a new object or even a new approach to object making through the most traditional means possible. A single older and, at first glance, more traditional-looking work, signals, 2012, neatly demonstrating the continuity in his project, was made via incision into aluminum leaf adhered to board. Again, drawing is highlighted, but this time via black marks showing through from behind the silvery surface. Some of the marks suggest crosshatching, as if we were seeing an old print or drawing enlarged in scale. In all these works, an indeterminate or indeterminable image seems to be coming into focus through the activity of the artist’s hand. Mauss’s work is by turns intriguing and awkward, and that contradiction lies at the heart of his work’s appeal.

Sherman Sam