Any painter who doesn’t find painting difficult should be treated with suspicion. Managing real challenges, as opposed to affected ones, should be the root of an artist’s style, by choice or by consequence. The work of Logan Grider has always struck me as bound up in tensions that are either invited or just endured. These tensions are on view at David Findlay Jr. Gallery in Untitled, Grider’s second solo exhibition at the gallery and his third in New York.
Eight encaustic paintings made between 2011 and 2014, and six hand-sized watercolors from the last two years, occupy the gallery’s small room, with one piece around the corner. The encaustic on panel “Untitled (JHG)” (2012), at 24 inches by 26, strikes me as a midway point in Grider’s shift away from the more spatially complex constructions of his work from 2008–11 (some of which were described by Artforum as deeply involved in “formal antics,” a compliment) and towards the recent pieces, in which an elegant grace seems to have intervened in his commitment to muscle his way through what one might consider Modernism’s unfinished business.
“Veil” (2012) is this show’s best example of Grider’s earlier process of stress-testing the limits of linear perspective, while still employing the portrait, still-life, and landscape formats that fall away in 2013 and 2014, especially in the watercolors. By contrast, in “Untitled (JHG)” Grider resists the formal heroics and opts instead for what I think is a more daunting task for a painter who got too good at his own game: reining it in. There’s little evidence of the artist bluntly antagonizing space or pushing his own artistic capacity for its own sake. Here we have a less complicated love. The still lifes of Matisse and Cezanne are embraced, as is their casual disregard for correct perspective, so that color and shape can thrive without restrictions. Grider takes the character of that disregard — it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t match — and flips it: the inconsistencies matter and animate the whole.
All paintings must negotiate with their edges, the physical circumstances in which they must work. But Grider’s boundaries have agency, in the sense that they seem to earn their keep. Interior shapes move about more openly, in motions that range from subtle and balletic to clumsy or rude. The pressure is always taut, though, the overall movements reminding me of the reshuffling we do when the doors close on a crowded elevator.
The gallery here places an extra tension on Grider’s works: the exhibition room is too small. Try as I might, no proper distance could be achieved to get the long view on these paintings that require them. The encaustics feel like small works delivered on a larger scale, which entails some pacing on the part of the viewer to grasp what’s happening in the expansions and contractions. I didn’t until I glanced over from the main room, while talking, and caught a work I’d previously stared at for several minutes but hadn’t fully seen. “Self” (2012) at 30 feet away is unrecognizable from “Self” at five feet. I believe this is true for all of his encaustic paintings, although it’s only a belief.
Grider is as successful as any artist outside the art world’s star system could be, yet as the youngest of David Findlay Jr. Gallery’s program — a gallery that was established before Picasso was born — there’s a tacit test between the sales of his work and the vertical real estate the gallery will risk giving him. At present, the work, in a small room painted brown, is stifled and looks artificially antiquated; Grider’s art requires more room to breath.
The exception to that rule is his watercolors, for which two feet of viewing distance will do, and which can be placed anywhere with proper light. These pieces have been painted rather differently due to Grider’s temporary loss of extended studio time. With the birth of his second son, his time to paint has been reduced to momentary escapes, in which he paints just one shape, returning later to paint another. This may be at once the artist’s easiest and most exhausting way to make a picture. Yet these small works are saturated with grace and pleasure. Painting is difficult for a painter, and these elegant works conceal that truth one shape at a time.
Logan Grider: Untitled continues at David Findlay Jr. Gallery (724 Fifth Avenue, Midtown, Manhattan) through April 12.