Step off of the gray pavement, step out of the chilly dullness of an impending New York City Winter, traverse the threshold of Next to Nothing Gallery, and indulge in the celebration of painting currently on view at 181 Orchard Street.
“Plush Paint: please do not pet, caress, fondle” features the work of Jason Stopa, Osamu Kobayashi, and Susan Carr in a bounty of paintings and sculptural hybrids that boast tenacious gestures, mysterious shapes, and amped up colors. As the eyes adjust to the stark whiteness of the minimalist space, at first glance the work appears as a collection of unearthly gemstones unified by candied commercial hues and vibrating combinations of paint. Robert Erani, Gallery Director and Curator employed the cohesion of color to serve as an “accessible commonality that any viewer can appreciate.” For Erani the visual pleasure of these works seduces the viewer to take a deeper look and discover less obvious nuances that distinguish the individual work of each artist.
Two colossal Osamu Kobayashi paintings visually dominate the main gallery space with an expanse of radiant color. On the North wall Kobayashi’s painting, “Bubble Brothers”, is deceptively straightforward at first. Perceiving the work from top to bottom the painting starts with a swooping field of Cadmium Yellow crowning two sumptuous mounds of Cobalt Blue and Cadmium Red. These mounds plunge towards each other and meet centrally in an inverted pinnacle. The fields of red and blue meander down the remainder of the canvas, creating a crisp undulating edge which divides the work in half. Each color is applied with a single massive uninterrupted brush stroke that sweeps and pivots around curves, supplying the painting with physicality, movement, and rhythm. “
Kobayashi’s reductive zen pop compositions highlight the essential and eliminate the unnecessary, a few well thought out sensual brush strokes are all he needs,” says Erani. Although originally intended to resemble a road leading off into the distance, the blue and red forms took on an alternative meaning for Kobayashi after the painting’s completion. “They made me think of the main characters in the popular 1980’s Nintendo game, Bubble Bobble, embracing,” says Kobayashi. The artist admittedly, “enjoys allusions that are more odd or obscure,” and considers his paintings to be a snapshot of tension and mysterious forces at play.
Susan Carr’s trophy-like sculptures punctuate the exhibition with palpable exuberance encapsulated in blocky multicolored constructions of paint slather shapes. Innocuously speckled between Kobayashi and Stopa’s rectilinear paintings Carr’s intimately sized three-dimensional works entice viewers to come closer. Upon rounding the corner into the back room of the gallery, the scope of Carr’s painterly dedication to the plastic form becomes clear as a tiny army of seven sculptures lays poised in rows atop a low broad pedestal positioned beneath a lime green painting by Stopa. Individually each piece is distinct, a character that contains its own internal set of balanced logic and inventive symbology. Collectively they are a visual force which denotes Carr’s profound love and obsession with the process of making.
In lieu of canvas, Carr utilizes found pieces of cut wood which are individually altered with thick layers of oil paint over the course of months and years before being finally assembled. Originally fueled by the conceptual philosophies of Jean Arp and ultimately forged by a long standing appreciation for the work of Van Gogh, what started out as an exploration four years ago has now blossomed into an entire branch of Carr’s practice. “I never thought sculpture would become the deep love and mystery it has,” she explains, ”for me my work is painting in action, painting that moves, literally you can move it around.” The invitation to touch, play, and reimagine painting as something dynamic is inherently built into the DNA of Carr’s sculptures and most likely the impetus for the exhibition’s dissuasive subtitle, “please do not pet, caress, fondle.”
There is something uncanny about viewing Jason Stopa’s work within the context of Next to Nothing’s minimalist gallery for they are in essence, paintings of paintings. The six works included in the show, mimic the architecture of the white walled space complete with emblematic rectangles that vacillate between painting mockups and windows. Vivid swathes of acidic color are brushed onto the canvas in economic gradients that form the first layer of each painting. A second layer of pictorial lines systematically carves up the picture plane into pattern of structural grids that establish stage-like floors and impassable vertical fences. Lastly, impasto paint extruded from the tube directly to the canvas creates thick cylindrical lines that function as borders, barriers, and window sills. Stopa grounds his work within the tradition of formal abstraction which seeks to expand the language of painting by “questioning a painting’s status in relation to the wall and the architecture of a gallery,” as he puts it.
Stopa’s work actively addresses philosophical queries which have haunted painting since its genesis. In the work “Pink Room” for instance, Stopa nods to painting’s history by employing two old-master methods of depicting space superimposed within the same painting. His paintings are filled with weight bearing gestures, evaporating walls, and impenetrable windows that demonstrate a series of formal invitations and denials. Stopa’s work is rooted in his deep appreciation for the history of painting and can be interpreted as generous formal meditations on color and space.
“Plush Paint: please do not pet, caress, fondle” is a satisfying collection of contemporary abstract painting – in short, a painter’s paradise.
The exhibition is currently on view until January 20th.