Los Angeles

Benjamin Carlson, untitled, 2016, oil, acrylic, Flashe paint, and ink-jet print on linen, 36 × 34".

Benjamin Carlson, untitled, 2016, oil, acrylic, Flashe paint, and ink-jet print on linen, 36 × 34".

Benjamin Carlson

Park View/Paul Soto

Benjamin Carlson, untitled, 2016, oil, acrylic, Flashe paint, and ink-jet print on linen, 36 × 34".

If press releases have largely become baroque exercises in obscurantist prose, the text announcing Benjamin Carlson’s solo show in Los Angeles was refreshingly straightforward, even laconic, in its description of “five paintings depicting still lifes in front of a window.” And indeed, the titleless exhibition offered exactly this, five variations on its theme, one of which was installed between the apartment-gallery’s actual windows (a decision both pragmatic and conceptually rich), while another was inserted into an empty closet. Situated in the proximity of apertures to the surrounding neighborhood, the untitled paintings, all 2016, the majority incorporating both oil paint and pasted digital prints, assumed a comparable role as portals, redoubling the representational logic of their scenes even as the disjuncts between the objects depicted complicated them. Each work establishes, within its physical frame, a kind of mise en abyme in which the accrued depictions make spatial sense while seeming to belong to different paintings. Signs of digital manipulation—such as the exaggerated halftone dots in the tree trunks spied through a window with pixelated molding in one example—further assert that these works on canvas are more assembled than painted.

Carlson’s layered panels at Park View embrace the current status of painting, assuming its post-internet condition as a matter of course. He makes much of his genre, highlighting its visual tropes—the casually scattered apples, wine bottles, vases, and flower arrangements that populate traditional still lifes, as well as the scene-within-a-scene and trompe l’oeil details that characterize them—to striking effect. The artist’s range of materials and processes and his retention of the seams between his appropriated imagery further denature the paintings even as Carlson seems to revel in their visual details: the impossibly red orbs of fruit or ridiculously verdant leaves; the paper-thin outline of a glass of water or the foreshortened edges of an iPad that make the device appear to recede into a separate plane than that of the distended, isometric table on which it rests; the fluid scribbles and haphazardly stenciled stars of a scene beyond a window frame; the amateur drawings sourced online and printed or copied on vinyl stencils to paint from; the conspicuous brushstrokes; and so on. He establishes a shorthand (or rather, a slew of shorthands with varying degrees of detail) in which a squiggle reads as volume or some well-placed lines indicate perspectival recession. In switching between handpainted and blatantly stock-derived imagery (a wicker bowl retains a watermark-like insignia, evoking a birthmark from the digital commons), often within the same jammed image, Carlson allows his still lifes to read as meta commentaries on the genre.

The sensibility of the works mounted at Park View was one of detached lucidity. And it was, in retrospect, a natural extension of the disparate series Carlson has been making over the past five years: the panels whose chunky, thick surfaces (built up from acrylic, dye, and modeling paste) recalled scales and other repeating patterns, which made an appearance in “Il Regalo” at Overduin and Kite in 2012; and, more recently, the trompe l’oeil paintings of cardboard shown at “Villa Aurora Revisited,” organized by Park View director Paul Soto at Balice Hertling, New York, in 2015. In “Il Regalo,” Carlson’s submissions were coherent as a project but also had a clear rapport with the works surrounding them (i.e., canny gambits from within the language and conventions of the medium by Math Bass, Nikolas Gambaroff, Nathan Hylden, Dianna Molzan, and Paul Sietsema); in “Villa Aurora Revisited,” in which the contributions reflected in various ways on the history of the titular place—a onetime refuge for European exiles during World War II and now a residency boasting proximity to the ocean from its perch in the Pacific Palisades—they became individuated. In all, Carlson’s play of vantages, styles, and techniques exaggerates surfaces already warped through mechanisms of conversion in resolution and scale and capitalizes on this dissonance.

Suzanne Hudson