Steven Charles, a young, English-born artist raised in Texas, has spent the past few years developing a kind of labor-intensive abstract painting featuring dense, allover compositions of brilliantly colored lines and quasi-geometric patterning. In this, his impressive New York solo debut, he showed nine recent enamel-on-canvas works, up to 7 by 6 feet, whose shimmering surfaces seem contradictorily impenetrable and airy. He dispenses with the conventional figure-ground relationship in most of his works, where underpainted lines and shapes are similar to those of the outermost layers. In some paintings he covers the surfaces using a technique he calls "targeting in," whereby innumerable tiny units of pattern made with a series of deft brushstrokes are repeated with slight variations to complete the composition like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
A large, vertical canvas, Blocking Transport, is activated by an irregular crosshatch made of thousands--yes, thousands--of long, thin strands of paint in contrasting tones of yellow, red, pink, blue, green and white. Stretching diagonally almost the entire height of the canvas, and horizontally from edge to edge, the lines form a vibrant and cohesive network. While some strands stand out more than others in terms of texture and hue, the overall scheme is nonhierarchical. No single color predominates, and each line contributes to a pulsating, harmonious whole. The composition may recall the weave of certain fabrics, but the effect is rather high-tech, like an impossibly intricate highway map one might try to read on a computer screen.
Arise, Therefore is even more mesmerizing. Covering the surface of this canvas are small, cell-like shapes that resemble irregular targets with concentric bands of green, pink and blue; in some ways the elements recall the circular components in Chuck Close's recent portraits. In Charles's painting, a relatively straight yellow line trimmed in red streams horizontally from the center of each target like the stem of an abstracted flower. Hundreds, of these units, shifting slightly in terms of color and size in some areas, cause the eye to skip across the surface as in a potent example of Op art. In spite of the exciting visual sensation each painting conveys, however, optical effects are probably the least of Charles's concerns. The thrust of his project appears to revolve around the painting process itself, an attempt to find a new way of working that would require a new way of seeing.
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