By Bill Lasarow
Shane Guffogg at
Leslie Sacks Fine Art, West Los Angeles
January 19 - February 16, 2008
While it was still shopping season you probably stopped for a few minutes to peer into a store window’s catchy display. But did you take a few extra minutes to really sort through the layers of visual information? You might have caught a view into the depths of the floor space behind those mannequins. Perhaps there was signage posted there, or decoration painted directly on the glass. And you might even have registered the reflected images of the street action facing the tableau. We encounter the ordinary with filtering lenses that reduce a complete visual experience so as to extract the cultural message we regard as “important.” Forgive my cynicism if I suggest that our hierarchies of what is important would be made healthier by simple inversion (like so many art folks, I can’t stand succumbing to the moronic seduction of commercial messaging). But they would at least be richer by just staying alert to the multiple layers of information before us.
Shane Guffogg is all about making us stay alert.
The quick version of his paintings is that a twisting ribbon of an automatist gesture is superimposed on a field of little Rorschach blots that read vertically like Asian calligraphic characters. Ghostly smoke rings hover against Victorian wallpaper. If this decisively abstract painter is out to represent anything, it’s that the major ideas which have held sway in the modern and contemporary era can be collapsed into a unified vision irrespective of their clashing disharmonies. Unlike so many of his peers, Guffogg is a unifier not a divider.
There was a decade-long stretch in which Guffogg steadily packed on and mastered control of new component layers applied with increasing complexity that reached a crescendo with an image such as the absorbing “Spanda” in 2003. Vertical shafts of golden light activate an aurora borealis effect on a web of yellow linework. A waterfall of blue patterns softly occupy the foreground. Executed in varied tones, the pattern washes over the linework without holding it back, and provokes a bracing double take as you try to distinguish the physical from the optical properties of the paint. It gives no more opportunity for your eye to rest than a Jackson Pollock. But it’s orderly and controlled elements firmly root Guffogg in the kind of rationalism that an earlier generation sought to shed.
His current work reinforces this impression by lowering the voltage and more closely tying things into a structure that feels like it wants to live together. Before, his paintings were being increasingly compelled to blow apart in their own Big Bang. The current year’s “I Remember” is like looking at a wall rather that into deep space, and you gaze right through the feather light ribbon. The pattern is aggressive, but as repetitive as a monk’s chant: neither dramatic nor narrative. Attention falls primarily on the swirling line, which is calibrated between being as distinct as a portrait and as ephemeral as mist. You go back and forth from mellow introspection to grasping after a specific identity that announces but refuses to resolve itself. We are still too early in this game to regard this work as emeritus, but it is precisely the kind of step back that, rather than signaling a retreat, indicates a growing authority.