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December 10, 2005 - January 15, 2006 at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City

by Ray Zone

Patrick Wilson has acknowledged that smog, its atmospheric intonation of color and light, has influenced his painting. His geometric abstractions are nothing if not elegant atmospheres that confound, tantalize and, occasionally, exalt the viewer. This painter’s work can be quite minimal, often verging on the monochromatic. Many abstract paintings, of course, implicitly reference the real world. The human sensorium is hardwired to consistently pull representation out of even the most diffuse strains of color and shape.

But Wilson brings something new to that sensory derivation--an erudite visual strategy that both invites and deflects the reducible and the interpretive. His work is off-center, with grounded or asymmetrically placed geometric shapes that will have viewers swinging their heads obliquely across the lush surface of the canvas even as they are pulled in for a closer look. It is quite obvious to cite the Finish Fetish or California light and space schools as historical antecedents, but there is something absolutely new and original about Wilson’s paintings, something irreducible.

One of the two largest scale (88 x 77”) paintings in the show is titled simply “Savage.” It is a vertically oriented field of a flat red clay color. In the lower quarter of the field, not quite centered, is a series of squares within rectangles, progressively smaller, like doors within doors. Subtle gradations of black lend shadow and atmosphere to the squares, which appear to penetrate some mysterious and monolithic structure.

That’s the narrative take on the visual construction. But the squares at the bottom of the large field of flat color occupy very little space, askew under great visual volume, deftly rendered and provocative. Wilson has used this strategy before, piling great emptiness on top of precariously placed geometric shapes. The observer is challenged by the unbalanced weight of the visual organization, while closely examining the painter’s remarkable workmanship with the surface paint and layering of color.

A second monumental painting titled “Desolation,” the same scale as the first, is even more baffling. Two off-centered and mismatched light gray squares ride the bottom edge of the painting underneath a massive field of black. If it quickly calls to mind spooky headstones in a midnight cemetery, this work is much more haunting than that. A sense of monumentality resides within the painting that evokes an overpowering, ineffable loss.

“Traveler XV," 2005, acrylic
on canvas, 17 x 17”.

“Traveler XIV," 2005, acrylic
on canvas, 17 x 17”.

“Desolation," 2005, acrylic
on canvas, 88 1/2 x 77”.

“Savage," 2005, acrylic
on canvas, 88 1/2 x 77”.

Perhaps the artist’s intention is explicated somewhat when we learn that these two works are a part of a series of five paintings collectively titled “The Course of Empire.” Therefore, it seems to make sense that we experience something daunting and confrontational in their presence. Smaller works by Wilson, 17-inch square acrylic paintings on canvas, titled “Traveler XV” and “Traveler XIV,” seem lighthearted in the presence of the larger works. The “Traveler” paintings overlay fields of color as squares and rectangles. Smaller rectangles hide quixotically underneath large square veils of light. Edges of squares appear and gradually scale off into subtle hazes of color, as with diminution of tone in a smog-filled light. These paintings, as all of Wilson’s work, are not fully experienced unless their surfaces are very closely inspected. Only then do the depths in the layers of paint and the painstaking workmanship become evident. This is a highminded body of work.

Timothy Tompkins, "Power Generators--Sunrise Effect," 2005, commercial sign enamel on aluminum, 48 x 48".
In the gallery’s “Project Room” are large (48” x 48”) paintings by Timothy Tompkins. These works, made with commercial sign enamel on aluminum, could only be called “post-digital.” Power generators are depicted with vibrant pixelation, as if shot with a low-res digital camera and further degraded in color gamut. It’s a compelling painterly riposte to subject matter that has been selected for its industrial banality, and which itself has been transformed by the presence of new technologies.