If, as the philosopher of art Nelson Goodman has argued, “Denotation is the core of representation and is independent of resemblance,” then Ken Weathersby’s tight wooden grids on view in Parallel Art Space’s Off the Wall are more than the mere “paintings” the artist calls them — they fully inhabit the fate of canvas as partition between signifier and signified. A grid, as interpretive model in a symbolic system, embodies denotation by being itself a terrain for signification, e.g. the space that makes intelligible the slippage between “Queen to F7” and “Checkmate.” And so too do these latticeworks with found objects, ranging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Summer 1982 bulletin to bits of textile, eschew the stable universe of easel and palette to probe a more fundamental schema of mediation.
From the outside, Weathersby’s pieces straddle the clinical geometry of Op art and the organic architectural character of traditional room dividers and panels, like the Arab mashrabeya or the Japanese screen, and are unobtrusive, orderly, suggestive even of a painterly monasticism. Yet, humming with accidental multitudes, these are not a recluse’s relics: bits and pieces stripped of their original context fortify the three-dimensional matrix that Weathersby constructs like scaffolding around the troubled repose of the pictorial plane. These occlusions are ghosts in an alternately rigid and brittle system (the artist’s glue is visible at every junction), and flutter between the pictorial, verbal, and diagrammatical denotations identified by Goodman in the aforecited Languages of Art. The found artifacts play out the penury of signs, ripped from some original order and entrapped in the next, their irrelevant resemblances sublimated within the grid. Here together are the limits of symbolic systems and the lexical affects we adopt to parse them.
Ken Weathersby is certainly not the first artist to have manipulated painting and denotation, or desecrated the ever-cooling corpse of canvas — the project has a distinctly vintage, Black Mountain College feel to it — but there is a focused and exploratory energy at work in his pieces, a maturity of purpose that stands at ascetic remove from the cloying color and sloppy corporeality that too often comes to the fore in Bushwick.
Ken Weathersby’s work is on view in Off the Wall at Parallel Art Space (17-17 Troutman Street, Ridgewood, Queens) through March 23.