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Jordan Scott, “Before Dawn” (2014), US postage stamps and resin on canvas, 30″ x 30″

CHICAGO — Jordan Scott makes pictures by collaging thousands of vintage postage stamps onto panel and canvas and coating the surface in resin. Describing it cold like that might conjure up images of the sort of gimmicky things that saturate Etsy and similar websites: purses made out of vintage record players, life-size animal sculptures made out of cutlery, that sort of thing. But as soon as you see Scott’s work — currently on display in a solo show at Judy A Saslow Gallery — you notice that there’s more going on than the first impression of a novelty effect.

In conversation with Hyperallergic, Scott spoke of how he only uses stamps created between 1900 and 1970, because their particular tonality is less bright than stamps created in recent decades. He uses complete sets of each particular stamp, rather than “singles,” which in the past meant looking for estate sales of stamp collections but nowadays includes scouring auctions on the internet as stamps of that vintage get scarcer.

The stamps for each piece are organized into rows, columns, and blocks, mainly by color and the shape of the stamp set’s design. So, a group featuring heads might be glued down next to a block of sideways-oriented planes. Rows of green stamps appear to progressively fade to red. I tried to see whether the particular alternation of design from row to row implied any extra meanings, perhaps to do with mid-century politics, for example, but each time I got the sense that the pictures are ultimately dealing more with themes of mid- to late-20th century abstract painting. “Vortex,” a 60-by-60-inch quadtych, seems to be a direct reference to the vortex that occurs in Frank Stella’s black paintings, though the light that reflects from Scott’s work creates a significant detour away from the philosophical seriousness of Stella’s. Scott claims that one of his major influences is Agnes Martin, and he’s on surer ground with that ancestry: a piece like “Winter Trees” resembles the playful accumulation of rows of lines and boxes that Martin used in her acrylic and graphite paintings of the 1980s and 1990s.

Jordan Scott, “Vortex” (2013), US postage stamps and resin on canvas, 60″ x 60″

In some pieces, like “Before Dawn,” there are color combinations that nod towards representational elements — in this case, a red band over a blue square that could suggest a sunrise. Mostly, though, Scott asks you to lose yourself for a while in his highly patterned and decorative surfaces, to feel a sense of the order within abstract painting, while enjoying a guilt-free visual pleasure trip. In that sense, his work shows the stamp of authority.

Jordan Scott: Structures from Silence: Jordan Scott continues at Judy A Saslow Gallery (300 West Superior Street, Chicago), through October 31.

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Philip A Hartigan

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...

One reply on “A Postal Approach to Abstraction”

  1. A teacher in grad school once told us: “Com’on people! If you’re making art about art then you have no life at all.”

    Sounds judgemental but I see what he meant when I look at this kind of work. It’s recursive, cute, maybe even clever, but it doesn’t move you. With those characteristics it makes it more market ready from the outset–I think–and therefore more decorative. Nothing wrong with decorative art, of course, but for stand alone work (i.e. not architectural) then it feels more like trading in commodities.

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