"Alca", oil/varnish on
wood, 24 x 18", 1996.

 
"Shay", oil/varnish on
wood, 24 x 18", 1996


"Reeve", oil/varnish on
wood, 24 x 18", 1996


RICHARD GODFREY


by Bill Lasarow

(Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica) Anyone who has loved those dioramas at the Museum of Natural History and years later happened on one of Richard Godfrey's floating chromatic geometries had to experience this art as something of a guilty pleasure. And if an action-packed space opera tended to draw you in, well so much the better to enjoy ogling these stage-lit star organisms. OK, so this was supposed to be art, and yeah all the minimalist-meets-light-and-space chops were in place. But this stuff took you back to adolescent boyhood (not to exclude you women, but most of you have got to be thinking "this certainly does not connect for me."), and left you thinking that the art part is fine, but let's get down to some definite fantasizing.

The last few years have seen Godfrey edge away from the entertainment, rejecting George Lucas in favor of Joseph Albers, and whether this is for better or for worse may reveal more about you than about him. Unlike the handful of light-and-space masters--particularly Doug Wheeler and James Turrell--Godfrey has brought down his scale and brings in the artist's hand more as he goes along. So while moving away from the narrative associations that enlivened his eighties work in one direction, he has even-handedly rejected dematerialization and spiritual ethereality in the other.

The work here continues a trend in his work that emphasizes a recessed space hosting a central vertical rectangle that is floated against a colored background bathed in flourescent light. These works modified the image space by making it more shallow, and modified the color by using light less to illuminate form and much more to saturate color. For viewers, absorption came not through space but from color and light. The envelopment occured less via imagination and more via perception.

The two central groups of work in the current exhibition share Godfrey's usual element: the rectangle. The larger works are essentially monochromatic color fields set in recessed black box frames and lit around the perimeter by hidden flourescent lights. The greater saturation here afforded by the lighting makes the edge of the color field, just inside the frame, the area of prime visual interest. As you look inward the hue fades into dull neutrality, while the frame stops you dead in your tracks.

Across the way is an arrangement of 27 small paintings--three horizontal rows of nine works each--consisting of a central black rectangle floating on a color field that is chromatically unique to each individual piece in the series. Each painting is jacketed in varnish, the slick, reflective veneer of which transforms the painting into an object. Finally, and crucially, Godfrey has painted a halo of light around the central black figure. This has the predictable effect of pushing the rectangle out in front of the swath of color, while heightening its "black hole" effect. That Godfrey paints on the illusion of light to appear as if projected from behind the central rectangle is something of a surprise, seeing as how we associate this artist with his painterly use of lighting.

Consider, however, the reverse symmetry of these two series: black border to black interior, perimeter lighting to central "lighting," recessed matte to projected gloss. It ties each group together at opposite poles to provide a viewing experience that transcends the individual object in favor of an enclosed, pulsating environment. Although he has gravitated toward a more formal and delimited installation, the immersive effect, though far less blatant, remains.