DENVER — With each passing decade, the images and advertisements in the monthly art magazine Artforum slowly shifted from black and white to color. The publication also grew in size, from under 200 pages per issue in the 1960s to nearly 400 pages in 2015. Advertisers fueled most of that increase in volume, but they also injected more color. For the series Reading Color: Artforum 1965–2015 at Gildar Gallery, artist Andrew Jensdotter selected a single issue of Artforum every five to ten years from between 1965 and 2015. He painted every page of each issue, starting with the cover, on a large canvas. Each page or layer covered the previous, building to a monolithic painting with hundreds of layers. Jensdotter finally sliced the surface to reveal rings of buried color. The results are abstract paintings that conceal, deface, and subvert their source material.
Starting with the cover, Jensdotter’s painting titled “Artforum September 1965” (all works 2016) reconstructs that issue, with nearly two hundred layers of paint, each representing a page. Even the format of the canvas matches Artforum’s distinctive square shape. After Jensdotter removed shavings of paint with a convex blade, the painting is largely black with faint flares of grey and orange emerging from layers below the surface. Due to the dark invariability of color, the undulating surface comprised of thousands of craters doesn’t muster the pointillist qualities of the paintings of later issues, such as “Artforum November 2000.” Here, hazes of purple and white emerge and fade without borders, briefly interrupted by spots of red and grey. There is a relentless energy that comes with the thousands of concentric circles of color and shifting terrain of the painting’s surface. In this series, the paintings are what remain of Jensdotter’s subtractive process, yet they are strangely generative, building through accumulation. The process of painting hundreds of layers of paint and then partially shaving them away is both aggressive and contemplative. As with calligraphy, the final work carries an energy that betrays the artist’s slow and meditative process.
Artforum maintains a position of authority among artistic and academic communities, making Jensdotter’s choice of source material especially meaningful. The ubiquity of black in his paintings echoes the textual voices of the publication — its interviews, reviews, and narratives. The color in Jensdotter’s series is provided by other artists’ work and advertisements. Normally the visual white noise of periodicals, here the ads achieve equal footing with the artworks. In “Artforum May 1995,” large blocks of orange that permeate the composition are likely due to a multi-page article in that issue about the movie Kids that featured tangerine-tinted stills from the film. Small black stick figures are strewn across the bottom half of “Artforum November 1985,” traces of a full-page advertisement for a Chuck Connelly show in New York that featured a detail of the painting “The Battle.” In these works, Jensdotter paints replicas of actual artworks, mixes them with advertising, and ironically arrives at the formalists’ pure art form, abstract art.
Clement Greenberg stated in “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” that kitsch borrows, converts, and discards, “it draws its life blood … from this reservoir of accumulated experience.” But Jensdotter is not exactly producing kitsch, is he? The source material is not visually obvious, but the titles of the series and each artwork do not keep secrets or leave room for interpretation. Jensdotter’s abstract paintings are not pure, there is content and subject matter at every layer. By cutting into those layers, he destroys the authority of the individual, social, and historical context until all that remains is color. With a wink at art theorists, Jensdotter produces imitations of imitations, medium from content, and the result is a superior visual and analytical experience. The new formalists are delightfully cerebral.
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