By Margarita Nieto
Leslie Sacks Fine Art, West Los Angeles
January 10 - February 16, 2009
“The paintings are really an excavation of my thoughts, with the original calligraphic markings being the most accessible part and the final surface of the painting becoming the deepest part of the excavation. Thought creates form and form creates thought.”
--Shane Guffogg, July 22, 2008
At first glance, the eighteen works that comprise Shane Guffogg’s “Communion” exhibition seem to be streams and swirls of color flowing off the canvas. In “Nodus Perpetuus et Copula Mundi II (The Eternal Knot and Link to the World)” electric blue lines (the Eternal Knot) swirl on top of red coils that cover a darker ground of cobalt blue. In “As Above, So Below” wide, curved reddish lines seem to be infused with a mysterious source of illumination. The dark red ground that lies beneath suddenly becomes more intense as the light strikes the surface. Feathery blue symbols cover the surface just below the reddish lines. We become aware that the deep red now emerges in strong broad lines, penetrates into the canvas, and is more vivid as the light plays across the surface. These interrelationships between light, color within and beyond, lines and curves elucidate Guffogg’s interpretation of what painting is: a re-reading of “illumination,” a Renaissance philosophical concept that entailed seeing at once both intellectually and spiritually.
Such luminosity seduces the eye, shattering any desire to analyze as it arrests one’s gaze. Now we become conscious of the lines. Under the shifting light, the surface gives way to lines, squiggles and curves. Calligraphic references? Fragments of obscure and ancient scripts? As we try to relate these lines to a recognized form, we slowly begin to dissemble a painterly language that is essentially abstract.
Born in California’s Central Valley, now based in Los Angeles and a founder of Downtown’s Pharmaka gallery, Shane Guffogg interned with Gary Stephan in New York while still a student at Cal Arts and worked as an apprentice assistant to Ed Ruscha from 1989-1995.
A seasoned traveler, his wanderings have extended beyond geography to mythological considerations of ancient cultures, the West, Asia and cultural periods, i.e. modernity, the classical, the Renaissance and the contemporary. He has discovered through these explorations that painting expresses what oral and written language cannot: in his paintings, he has inscribed hidden and visible signs, symbols and patterning that reference spirituality, and the hidden yet present dimensions of Quantum Physics and Super String Theory. Scientific references notwithstanding, Guffogg’s way of seeing is not predominantly a physical but rather a spiritual journey. The imagery traces the painter’s process in creating the work. We have the option of going along for the ride in our encounter with it.
The complexity of these paintings is reflected in their working process, which demands time and introspection. “Sacred Totality,” for example, took more than a year to paint and consists of some sixty to seventy layers of transparent glazes and oils. Cadmium red dominates the work. Waves and curved lines are still reddish as if drawing from the ground, but a golden contrast through light and glaze vibrate across the surface. Allusions perhaps to the vibrating strings that cosmologists have identified as the “matter” of the eleven dimensions of reality that comprise our world, but which are hidden from our perceptual capacity. Or yet again, their rhythmic presence subtly opens up the depths of the surface seemingly allowing a glimpse into the depths of the painting. In “Beauty and its Creation I” the orange-red surface is diffused by white patterning that approximates graffiti. The underlying green curls and waves are a delicate counterpoint to the white graffiti-like lines. There is an interplay between color, line and light, a dialogue underscoring the basic contradiction that is painting: these static images move and dance as the light penetrates the surface.
Fed by the myriad images of our technological culture, film, TV, computer images, and thoughtful as to their implications, the finality of that two-dimensional world becomes the painter’s challenge. His response is, as the title “Communion” suggests, a sharing, “a mystic interchange of ideas. . .innermost and spiritual. . .bringing strength and solace between man and nature.” By embedding these richly referential calligraphic elements in the layers and depths of his paintings, he allows them to emerge from and into color and light, those primary sources that both give and enrich our lives. This presents a conundrum of sorts, for in so doing, the flat surface we define as the canvas acquires great depth, and what we presume as two-dimensional becomes instead, a three-dimensional experience for both our eyes and our inner being.