Anthony Campuzano, Chris Oliveria, Jeremy Rocine and Anne Seidman
April 20 – May 12, 2019
In 'Philosophical Investigations', Wittgenstein discusses the “concept with blurred edges” of language games. “These phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all, - but they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relationships that we call them all ‘language.’” Observing both discourse and games, examples can be found that may or may not be amusing, competitive, cooperative, involve life-and-death stakes, be characterized as zero-sum, or not. There is not one universal trait among them. “I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities,” he continues, “than 'family resemblances'; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way, - And I shall say: ‘games’ form a family.” The resemblances between this grouping of artists and the way they intertwine with other practices can illuminate the vibrant impurity of approach. They engage in open-ended games involving texture, text and legibility, pattern, history and place.
Chris Oliveria stitches together surfaces from scraps of canvas conspicuously covered in the grit and everyday minutiae of studio practice: paint drips, smears, interrupted jottings and the kinds of marks one might make to test the flow of an airbrush nozzle. Jan Tumlir's 2016 essay on Oliveria's work describes how by way of these traces of nothing in particular we arrive at something extremely concrete, “haunted by all that lies outside it, an evaporated content that nevertheless defines its edges, pressing in [...] reminding us that abstraction in art has never just come down to the dissolutions of the object world into some Platonic, ideational essence.” The color and motifs in the foreground, evoking kitsch 50's fabric “which might initially strike one as straight-from-the-tube, [are] on closer inspection revealed to have been exactingly mixed.” The shapes, recalling “textile detritus, the sort that collects on the floors of an apparel sweatshop,” have been distilled from a careful process of looking. They seem to be negative spaces cut away from surrounding shapes reversed into positive, theatrical figures on grounds of visual noise that describe the story of their own making.
Jeremy Rocine’s works on paper find their source material in 'T’s, New York c. 1910,' Plate 92 of 'The Pieced Quilt, an American Design Tradition' by Jonathan Holstein. This design suggests columns of abstract, asemic writing rendered in bold color. Rocine introduces gentle undulations that interrupt the pattern's geometric flatness, as if catching it in breeze or creasing its surface. In another variant, he strips out the blue and lays the red over a field of off-white with hints of subtle greens. Other quilts in this collection used as references bear more evocative titles like 'Road to California,' c. 1900 by an unnamed craftswoman who may or may not have traveled along that route. Many of the best examples of this style, prized for vivid saturated color were made by Mennonites, Amish and other German transplants to rural Pennsylvania. Since its modern inception with Malevich, through Op Art and P&D, abstract painting has always had a relationship with craft tradition despite attempts to draw boundaries between these practices.
Recently moved to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania, Anne Seidman has stated “I don’t consciously think about building, per se, when i work, but I always think – especially when making drawings - that I am building or stabilizing something using these modular systems” and that “an amorphous abstract narrative is developing in my head.” Sid Sachs has pointed out a similar appeal in her paintings to rural architecture which is “architectonically orderly and casually ramshackle.” Like Oliveria, she at times recoups the detritus of the studio as raw material for her work in the form of tape, snips of obliterated text, and precise variants of color samples. Like block-style piece quilts, her paintings are assembled out of rectangles, triangles or L-shaped components joined into larger wholes. Asymmetrical non-repeating compositions seem to surge and grow as if compelled by forces of inorganic vitality. A brilliantly observant colorist, Seidman captures subliminal traces of specific sensations of local color and light. She has described attempting to replicate the pattern from a Gee's Bend style quilt, reveling in the productive imprecision of memory to produce something new from an absent original.
Philadelphia artist Anthony Campuzano's mysteriously evocative work 'Midwestern Abstraction' seems like a not-so-distant relative of both Oliveria's foreground shapes and the places imagined but not always visited by the quilters of rural Pennsylvania. Sharing the repetitive use of the hand with much of American folk art, Campuzano's drawings teem with dense layers of meandering looping marks. Like the ghost haunting a property described in an angrily scrawled note to a landlord found by Campuzano, the artist's obsessions and textual references repeat, rotate and are echoed in abstract patterns. “The Restless Journey of James Agee” appears in one drawing, the title of Genevieve Moreau's biography of the author, whose existence was fraught with productive tensions between life and art. Born in Knoxville, he criss-crossed the U.S. and wrote 'Let Us Now Praise Famous Men' with Walker Evans, detailing the lives of Alabama sharecroppers. At times in this book, he foregrounds his intrusive presence as documentarian, at others he anonymously enumerates prosaic details like the contents of a farmer's bag. (The word 'quilt' incidentally has its Latin root in culcita meaning stuffed sack or cushion). Campuzano explains, “I was inspired by the times during the Great Depression when Agee - recently graduated from Harvard- worked at Fortune magazine in Manhattan and would spend the night in his office writing poetry. There is poetry in even just that act.”
The card game Mao is played by attempting to guess at rules unknown beforehand by anyone but the dealer. A similarly ad hoc approach toward ready-to-hand materials and content can be opposed to the kind of programmatic approach to conceptual art that proceeds directly from ideas to their realization. Economies of means helped the survivors of the Depression cope with their dire conditions as quilting styles migrated westward, continuing in a more sombre form and leaving behind tangible, tactile memories. Transformation of found texts and folk motifs and a foregrounding of their own work processes and fleeting impressions link these four artists as they glory in the irreducibly concrete and contingent. Their practices are rooted in interlocking games of repetition and discovery, color and contagion, metonym and metaphor, condensation and displacement, cutting, suture, erasure and scars - provoking us to ask not so much “what does it mean?” but “how does it proceed?”
Organized by Justin Michell