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October 11 - November 15, 2002 at Chac-Mool Gallery, West Hollywood

by Mat Gleason

2002-10", 2002, acrylic polyurethane on scraped aluminum, 4 1/4 x 24 3/4 x 7/8".

New paintings by Roy Thurston are a litmus test, easily separating the sophisticated viewer from humdrum pleasure-seeking dullards. These new paintings feature monochrome acrylic paint on machine-milled aluminum surfaces. They have a rare and beautiful ruggedness that is perfectly balanced with an angelic, soft luminescence. Cold metal surfaces belie warm repositories of light.

Two of his paintings eschew the milling machine precision for a hand scraped brute flatness. Both were painted a subtle blue on top of the flawlessly flat metal sheen. The first of these is a large vertical painting that looks like a shimmering waterfall when it is not omnipresent as a metal monochrome wall painting; in the other, a horizontal small surface resembles an electric Vija Celmins study of endless ocean waves. As in all of his works, light is critical. Its presence and positioning in relationship to these works shifts with every step the viewer makes. Through the interaction of light and the viewer’s body, these paintings reflect your subtlest movements back to you in a meditative, optic pulse--your pulse!

His milled pieces present us with a precise surface of grooves so subtle that they just hum quietly beneath the surface. The grooves organize existing and projected light, resembling the umbra of a star or other dramatic sources of light found in epic nature.

Thurston's monochromes succeed where so many others die. The power of most monochromes--their subtle sensuousness--is typically lost in the reflective glare of gallery skylights and spotlights. But here the glare is defeated by Thurston's machined surfaces. These plotted planes allow the artist to draw with and direct light, to have his paintings receive unfettered undulations of luminescence knowing they enhance his effort.

Thurston's new paintings are masterfully paradoxical. They change while remaining static. Their subtlety is underscored not by fragility but by the looming permanence of metal. They are machined to a precision unheard of in the visual arts, yet are inherently inexact by virtue of the flowing reflection of changing available light. Thurston's drawing with light is so fluid, it is almost impossible--short of photographing the work and substituting a flash polaroid for the artwork--to stabilize its motion.

Roy Thurston and the
milling equipment.

2002-13", 2002, acrylic polyurethane
on milled aluminum, 22 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 1 3/4".

2002-16", 2002, acrylic polyurethane
on milled aluminum, 24 1/4 x 11 x 7/8".

The artist granted this writer a tour of his machine shop-like studio, pointing out a piece of aluminum on the bed of one of his horizontal milling machines. A mill combines the vertical cutting of a drill with a horizontal motion that allows small increments of surface to be skimmed off as the drill bit-like tool is passed under by a floating table. The piece of aluminum had the subtle grooves of Thurston's milled paintings, but with a flaw--very minor--in the form of a noticeable groove rising up from the surface. "That cut is a ten-thousandth of an inch and yet your eye goes right to it," Thurston lamented.

A search for such infinitesimal precision may be an impossible dream. . . .Thurston could be Downtown L.A.'s Don Quixote. Yet the approximation of perfection reveals a deeper role and goal for minimal painting, monochromes, and light/space artworks. Thurston has reworked three schools of radical painting in one amazing, succinct body of work.