New York

Lauren Silva, Sling, 2015, ink-jet print on silk charmeuse with paper, acrylic, ink, gouache, and spray paint, 38 × 46".

Lauren Silva, Sling, 2015, ink-jet print on silk charmeuse with paper, acrylic, ink, gouache, and spray paint, 38 × 46".

Lauren Silva

Lauren Silva, Sling, 2015, ink-jet print on silk charmeuse with paper, acrylic, ink, gouache, and spray paint, 38 × 46".

There’s something not quite right about the paintings in Lauren Silva’s second show at Zieher Smith & Horton. At first glance, they appear not so much off, as overly on. The best ones register immediately as implausibly charming, working a confectioner’s palette to recall such feel-good pop-cultural genres as vintage and contemporary comics and children’s-book illustration. Yet there’s something else. The paintings’ surfaces shimmer slightly, and as you draw near you’ll see that the softly hued, blurry grounds extend around the sides of the stretcher frames. You might then notice that the cartoon-style black lines subdividing color and space have dissolved glitchily into partial irresolution. All faith in gesturalism is lost as the grounds reveal themselves to be not painted, but ink-jet printed onto a finely woven fabric that the checklist tells us is silk charmeuse.

At this point, the initial seduction gives way to a puzzling over means: Is that impossibly smooth chromatic transition a Photoshop gradient? Are those variegated striations the result of an analog smear, a digital blur, or both? Are these fantasy-landscape atmospherics generated by hand, then scanned and manipulated, or are they simply swiped and messed with via software and/or the printing process? What next becomes apparent is a host of curious pictorial effects and hand-wrought embellishments: A drop shadow gives a flat patch of color illusory depth; a blast of spray paint adds tone and definition to abstract form; acrylic overlays and painted paper adhesions build upon or hijack perspectival space. To Silva’s credit, each of the show’s twelve paintings, which range in scale from intimate to enveloping, has its own exploratory character. Although they all appear to have evolved out of a similar process of supplemental elaboration, each sets and resolves a unique matrix of formal propositions.

The pick of the litter for me is Sling, 2015, a medium-size, landscape-format slab of visual sorbet. A bright, blended, red-to-yellow block juts into the frame center top, cheerily dominating a pastel ground of sky blue and lemon tinged with shades of light pink and green. A big muddy smear at top left supplies a note of contrast, doubling down on the hot-and-cold color scheme. Further disjunction is provided by loosely gridded black lines that appear to drift across and in places coalesce with the ink-jet washes. These lines provide a subtle framework for a couple of well-placed adornments—a shaded white tonguelike form adhered to the work’s surface that appears to hang off the central line, and a painted white, Sue Williams–esque amoebic blob heading for the edge of the frame. Two streaks of blue spray paint complete the unified composition.

It’s a delightful picture, in a Disney-Miyazaki kind of way. But there’s more to these works than cartoony titillation. That moment when you cotton to the bait and switch, when you realize that the too-sweet painterly grounds are technologically mediated, you feel the beleaguered model of painting as bodily index collapse in a heap. As the dust settles, skepticism sets in. One looks anew, scrutinizing every mark and mass for evidence of authenticity. Ink-jet printing as foil or representational counterpoint to painterly abstraction is not uncommon in art today (Albert Oehlen, Pieter Schoolwerth, and Laura Owens come to mind), but digital process as a means of amping up and re-rendering the fluid application of paint is still sufficiently surprising, or perverse, as to prompt material and methodological analysis. Once done, what we’re left with is a series of inventive, decorative tableaux that extract a potent frisson from a formalist repertoire expanded and complicated by the interplay of real and fake facture.

Jeff Gibson