Patrick Lundberg, No title (detail), 2019, mixed media, 45 1⁄4 × 3⁄8".

Patrick Lundberg, No title (detail), 2019, mixed media, 45 1⁄4 × 3⁄8".

Patrick Lundberg

In a catalogue text for Patrick Lundberg’s 2015 exhibition “Draft Copy,” fellow New Zealand artist Roman Mitch quotes Peter Sloterdijk’s 2006 book, Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation. “Vengeful acts of expression mean nothing more than a narcissistic expenditure of energy,” the philosopher says. “The professional revolutionary, who is working as an employee of a bank of rage, does not express individual tensions; he follows a plan.” Given the distinct lack of obvious rage in Lundberg’s quiet, provisional painting practice, Mitch’s surprisingly apt quotation points to what makes it so easy to misunderstand Lundberg’s work or even miss it altogether. The supports of Lundberg’s paintings are often as small as the head of a ball pin, or, as in the case of his recent exhibition, “In the Vastness of Sorrowful Thoughts,” they are fabric strips a centimeter wide and just over a yard long—tiny works that appeared, at distance, as no more than pimples on, or incisions into, white gallery walls.

At Ivan Anthony, Lundberg hung his narrow paintings vertically, no more than three to a wall. All were dated 2018 or 2019, and, as is always the case in his practice, all were called No title. Each was divided into color blocks of varying lengths that, at a distance, had the effect of stacked Cuisenaire rods (colored sticks used for teaching basic math). This, though, was simply a focal-length issue: Up close to one example, one could see that a pink rectangle was actually made from pointillist dots; against that, an orange-red block was made from diagonal hatchings like windblown grass. After that was another pointillist block and then a long strip of dirty mauve with a wobbly dark line worming its way along it. In addition to these dots and diagonal lines, Lundberg regularly used vertical hatchings, like a prisoner counting off days, and thin overpainting so that base layers ghost through. Lundberg borrowed his show’s title from a 1963 painting by Hans Hofmann made in the wake of the death of his wife, Maria, and Lundberg’s control of kooky color relationships inevitably brought to mind Hofmann’s “push and pull” approach to using color to create pictorial space. This was evident, for instance, in solid yellow giving way to gray dots, which in turn transition to a block of turquoise; or a washed-out blue merging into pink hatchings, followed by a fluorescent yellow with an equally lurid green leaching from behind.

With his references to Minimalism (his narrow verticals, packed with luminous color, seemingly glowing like Dan Flavin tubes), Color Field abstraction (Barnett Newman’s “zips” cut free from their painted surrounds), and Hofmann’s paintings, Lundberg flagrantly tempts us to connect his work with postwar modernism. But attending to such connections can distract from the insistent presentness of the encounter with Lundberg’s paintings themselves. “In the Vastness of Sorrowful Thoughts” revealed that Lundberg’s primary concern is with the politics of perception and its close correlate, attention. His work persuades us to be moved, literally, by the need to grasp what one was presented with, and allow its true material nature come into focus only through a commitment of time. The grief-ridden work from which the exhibition borrows its title was a bleakly expressionistic outlier in Hofmann’s practice, a painting that ooched toward being a “narcissistic expenditure of energy.” Lundberg’s painted strips risked the same self-indulgent fate but stepped back from the brink by translating Hofmann’s optical push and pull into physical action: their antiheroic scale and canny color contrasts acting like invisible hands shunting viewers back and forth. Whether Lundberg has ever worked from a bank of rage, he is certainly following a deeply considered, deeply phenomenological plan.