On ViewEli Ping Frances Perkins
February 15 – March 15, 2015
Chinatown is a harsh place in winter. The bitter wind rushes sidewalkers to their destinations without letting them breathe the permanent funk of raw fish markets or linger in the charming complexity of the souvenir shops. Mariah Dekkenga’s show at Eli Ping Frances Perkins, by contrast, is a simple second-floor oasis of five round oil paintings in cheerfully bright tones on dark brown linen. The unfinished plywood floors of the gallery are the only indication of downtown grit in an otherwise typical white-walled space. In a fully untitled exhibition without text panels, Dekkenga’s abstract canvases are surfaces to mull over, tokens of formal enigma.
At first glance, the five circular paintings appear as rainbow portholes, each a 32-inch prismatic configuration cut into sections, small geometric fields of neon and pure-hue color spectrums. All share a similar layout of a diagonal line of intersection across the canvas and a series of rectangles and triangles falling into a Tetris-like square format, framed by a round composition.
Close examination of the paintings reveals their surprise. The hard edges of the sections are slightly blurred, creating the illusion of an unfocused lens. In addition, an expressive underpainting of thick impasto paint applied in a sweeping motion opposes the austere math of the flat shapes. The layering of the streaked canvases under the cloudy geometry, and the angular content of each painting in contrast to its curved boundary, produces a visual balancing act. The paintings shift between bold expressionism and finely glossed minimalism, inviting the viewer to move closer and catch a glint of reflected light from the textured backgrounds.
The show calls to mind one of the old chestnuts of modern art in the 20th century: Simultaneity. For poets and artists such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Frantiek Kupka, Robert Delaunay, and Sonia Terk-Delaunay, this elusive term was often used to describe a combination of interrelated sensory effects, a layering of distinct but integrated experiences. Dekkenga merges discordant formal styles in painting, and also allows computer programs to enter her image-making process. She develops her paintings in Adobe Illustrator and transfers them to canvas by hand, physically replicating her digital design with paint. In the past, she has created free screensavers of her exhibitions for download from the gallery’s website. While many contemporary painters may champion the physicality of painting, the actuality of texture over the flat, backlit screen, Dekkenga’s process does not prioritize painting over programming, or vice versa; it allows both to inform each other and to exist simultaneously.