The title of the current group show at The Hole gallery, Post-Analog Painting, sounds like a term invented by art historians. It implies a genre defined by our current post-millennial moment where artists grapple with the ubiquity of digital technology. As a centuries-old practice, painting in particular seems to be under continual evaluation in an era where image making occurs mainly in the digital realm. The Hole exhibition uses a strong selection of work to address this question, presenting a playful, upbeat take on digital media and internet culture.
As if to remind us of the building blocks of our digital experience, Robert Otto Epstein, Misaki Kawai, and Mark Flood play with pixilation. Flood’s painting on canvas has the effect of a low-resolution image of an American flag stretched way beyond its capacity. The flag is fuzzed out of focus while the pixels that form it are distinct. It’s a Jasper Johns’s flag updated for the digital era. Epstein’s small grid paintings and Kawai’s large-scale “Nice Shot” (2015) resemble 1980s-era video game imagery with flowers and other friendly subjects rendered in clunky 8-bit graphics. The works indicate a nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent digital age.
Corey Arcangel’s 2011 show Cory Arcangel: Pro Tools at the Whitney Museum comes to mind with some of the works clearly inspired by digital imaging tools. Arcangel established a strong precedent for appropriating internet culture and the imaging effects of digital technologies. Where Arcangel worked mainly in digital video and installation, the artists in Post-Analog Painting conflate digital image making with painting to deliberately blend and confuse the forms.
Neil Raitt’s mountain peak pattern in “Alpine (Scream Green)” (2015) looks like the product of a Photoshop clone stamp — a tool used to copy a selected area of an image and stamp other areas to create a repeating motif. Works by Trudy Benson, Nathan Ritterpusch, and Joe Reihsen feature distinct layers of patterns, images, and textures in a way that allude to but are distinct from the layering technique used in digital imaging. For instance, Rebecca Ward’s “X (cream and pink)” (2014), a sheer silk surface that exposes the underlying stretcher bars, replicates in physical form the technique of setting the opacity percentage of an image layer in a program like Illustrator or Photoshop.
The unexpected interplay of pattern, space, texture, and especially color gradients is prevalent throughout the exhibition. Michael Staniak’s pair of painted plaster pieces combines what looks like the textured plaster on the ceilings of homes with an overlay of iridescent gradient colors. The colorful images are like cropped sections from an over-saturated Instagram photo viewed on a backlit iPhone, but instead of a gleamingly smooth screen, the image is set on a very tactile ground of ridged plaster.
With all the abstraction in the exhibition, it is refreshing to see work that acknowledges the participatory nature of digital culture. Nathan Ritterpusch’s “You Make Me Sick” (2012) features a clown face crudely drawn into a sort of custard with a layer of spaghetti revealed beneath. Is our endless glut for digital media like the carb overload that’s making us obese? There’s something Koonsian in the humor of the piece, the reference to human desire bordering on perversity. It’s reminiscent of Jeff Koons’s oil paintings where images of junk foods, children’s toys, and bikinis are collaged and composed digitally and then meticulously reproduced as paintings by his team of assistants. But the Ritterpusch piece is devoid of that obsessive precision and outsourced labor. It’s a painting Koons might make if his workers all went on strike.
Rachel Lord and Jeanette Hayes reference the mash-up aspect of internet culture. Lord mingles Sailor Moon with modernist paintings and Hayes sets Angry Birds flying within thrift store-style painted landscapes. These works conjure the meme generators who rework click-hole content into amusing parodies. But the works dip too far into on-the-nose cleverness in an exhibition that leans a bit toward the one-liner in general.
The piece that most effectively suggests pop cultural engagement is KATSU’s tondo-style oil on canvas “TBT” (2015). “TBT” features an ideal rendering of a pizza that might be described as stock-photo realism. The trend of printed internet imagery — cats, outer space, pizza — onto t-shirts, hats, and leggings perhaps culminated several months back with pop icons Katy Perry and Cara Delavigne sporting pizza print onesies. “TBT” vibrates between internet representations of pizza, pizza as fashion, and actual pizza.
While it could be argued that all current painting is post-analog painting, the selection of work demonstrates the fluidity with which artists move between the digital and analog worlds. The muddling of the two feels like a true representation of the way artists themselves work. Some pieces might be hand painted in the traditional sense but the artists draw on digital culture, even if they don’t use digital tools directly. For the viewer, the uncertainty of media and technique highlights the diminishing boundaries between digital and analog methods of creative production.
Post-Analog Painting continues at The Hole (312 Bowery, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through May 24.
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