[1] [2]

[3] [4]

(1) "Gyration Subscription," enamel on canvas, 28 x 21", 1995.
(2) "Untitled," enamel on canvas, 1995.
(3) "Untitled," enamel on canvas, 1995.
(4) "Untitled," enamel on canvas, 1995.

by John O'Brien

(Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica) Bill Barminski's multitude of image and text cut-ups have been working against the grain of good old common sense--the dollars and cents of ahmerican consumerism that is--for a number of years now. Paintings, CD-ROMs, prints and sound works rearrange the 'classical' archetypes of the advertising genre and do nothing so much as to collectively conjure up the blithely destructive countenance of Mercury, demi-god of communications with the gods and patron saint of lies. Precisely, the sort of double-edged figure often featured in Barminski's work.

In these recent paintings, like his work overall, there appear to be several different tensions at play. In many of the paintings, he is content to create a kind of distressed painterly, anti-consumer icon that acts like the dark side of their monolithic advertising counterpart. The image of a glass bottle, in the familiar flanged style of Classic Coke, is isolated and painted onto a field of smudged whites. The logo on the bottle reads CRAP, and this colors our view of the broken liquid in the bottle with an unexpected visceral twist.

A modified cross, harkening back to that of the Chevrolet logo, likewise appears on an off-white field that is embellished with Barminski's characteristic micro-relief cracking, peeling and layering of enamel paint and gesso. A symmetrical bisection of the chevron allowes Barminski to sub-divide the word into phonetic parts. 'Cön' with the German umlaute appears in the right half; 'Su' appears in the left; and an isolated M and E, done in different typographical fonts, complete the word. Consume, come sue me, con su me and consommé are just a few of the words which this play begins to generate, and as the consumer you have every right to ask for more.

In other paintings the artist generates rebus-like puzzles. These works are more subtlely Iayered, and the viewer is encouraged to range more widely with free association. In the midst of it all, there is ample use of illustration and ad images, especially from the forties and fifties. They are melded together with words and word fragments as well as abstract patterns. Double-chinned warriors from the high school football teams, gooey slices of fruit covered cake, cents signs from the cash register, fortune cookies and less legible image fragments float around the letters KILL in two works. Small clusters of inscribed text and barely visible embossing provide an inkling of the artists' intent. More than anything else, that intent seems to be related to unveiling the extraordinarily high number of events we can link to the gruesome rebus. From serial killers to the toxic waste nova contained in mom's apple pie, the indictments are for the viewer alone to determine.

Barminski's newest work turns to near abstraction for inspiration. It incorporates materials such as fabric old lace which is embedded into the painted surface much like the gesso and enamel plaint. This use of an overtly formal pictorial element, unrelated to a critique of consumer culture, and the introduction of visual patterning such as stripes and bars, opens new horizons for Barminski to explore.

To date, his critique has primarily centered on the unbelievable glut of stupid, goofy and downright devious things consumer culture promulgates. In the course of this very active skepticism, Barminski has been quite a producer himself. Maybe now, assisted by the fractal awareness that he has indirectly acquired in order to guide him in the organization of his CD-ROM projects, he has found something of value in the wasteland of popular culture.