January, 2009, R. H. Quaytman @ Miguel Abreu Gallery
R. H. Quaytman / Chapter 12: iamb
December 14, 2008 - February 1, 2008
Review by Dan Tarnowski
Miguel Abreu Gallery
36 Orchard St., New York, NY 10002
The sun on Orchard St. was pleasantly blinding this weekend. I allowed my eyes to absorb it’s radiating warmth as I walked to Miguel Abreu Gallery, in downtown Manhattan. The sunlight felt healing after a New Year’s of bleak, frosted-over weather and dimly lit apartments. When I stepped inside the gallery, my eyes had to readjust to the interior lighting. The purple and teal blobs sliding across my vision — the after effect of looking at the sun — faded, but R. H. Quaytman’s silkscreens continued to vibrate.
The work in Chapter 12: iamb utilizes a variety of visual effects. Some have been made familiar by the Op-Art movement, as well as the vaguely scientific “Optical Illusions” books we all loved as kids. One example is the silkscreen, lateral inhibitions in the perceptual field. It’s a grid of pale gray lines crossing a black background, white circles at their intersections. The contrast between black, white, and gray, causes one’s eyes to see the illusion of smaller black dots appearing within the white circles. The dark dots dart around, appearing at varying shades of intensity and blurriness, as your eyes move throughout the piece. This all-over movement and vibration creates an enormous depth-of-field that an ordinary painting can’t achieve, somewhat like watching characters and objects pop out of a movie made for 3-D glasses. However, staring into this piece is not like the enveloping, meditative experience of staring into a Rothko. The grid creates quivering hallucinations of diamonds and squares that are mostly uncomfortable to the eye.
One may be inclined to move spontaneously from piece to piece, rather than quietly contemplate each. According to Miguel Abreu Gallery’s press release, however, this is the artist’s intent: Quaytman is concerned with paintings that inform one another, leading the viewer from one to the next. This is especially apparent in Chapter 12: iamb (many of the pieces carry the same title). It’s a photograph of a shining goose-necked lamp, aimed at the viewer. (This image is repeated throughout many of the silkscreens in the show.) The recession of a room, dark traces of a door, and other mundane surroundings can be seen, but the picture is cropped so as not to reveal much.
In the black and white photo, the light from the lamp is an intense, white aura. The blinding halo of light evokes the sun, or a lit electric lamp, and a viewer may be inclined to avoid looking into the white area. Quaytman refers to this as a “blind spot,” something used to move the viewers eye throughout the picture plane and the gallery at large. The surface of Chapter 12: iamb is covered with a frosty texture, like artificial, aerosol snow. Diamond dust has also been sprinkled over the surface; tiny crystal grains twinkle in the light as one moves before the picture. This, like much of Quaytman’s work, gives the viewer a sense of involvement. One can change their perception of a piece by focusing their eyes on different areas or by standing in a different spot. All of Quaytman’s silkscreens have a sharp, well-constructed appearance. They’re printed on smooth, wood panels, and when viewed from an angle, their beveled, wooden sides can be seen. A yellow, abstract piece lets sections of the woodgrain wrap from the edges, to the front of the panel. A bare, wooden strip appears centered on each side of the picture–imagine a picture frame with only two, opposite sides (one shorter than the other). These thin vertical forms appear to hold the piece to the wall, something like the metal clamp of a clipboard. This type of decoration is a reminder that Quaytman’s images are physical constructions, artifacts, and not just illusions.
According to the press release for Chapter 12: iamb, in R. H. Quaytman‘s world, “the picture actively refers back to the painting itself.” Self-referencing is indeed the most apparent visual and thematic connection between Quaytman’s silkscreens. Fresnell lense, for example, appears to be a photograph of the aforementioned silkscreen “lateral inhibitions in the perceptual field” hanging on a wall, but rotated 90 degrees. Quaytman’s reason for repeating artwork in multiple photographs is enigmatic, however it does give the exhibition’s body of work a unified feel. Another untitled piece presents the familiar illuminated desk lamp. Over this grainy black and white print, however, a thin bar of bright yellow printing ink has been wiped from top to bottom, overlapping the bulb of the lamp. It could be the artist’s illustration of a shaft of light, an attempt to once again show the artist‘s presence.
Similar gameplay between the photographic picture and the physical surface appears in Chapter 12: iamb, where a tapelike strip diagonally crosses another lamp photograph in two places. Quaytman’s work is dark and quiet, with a mature energy. The artist is able to move your eyes and body from piece to piece, immersing you in moody zones and glimpses of rooms, and then pull you out, reminding you that you’re looking at physical creations. The artist’s motive for this may be as mysterious as her glowing lamps and unrevealing room compositions, but the overall experience is not unsatisfying, but rather interesting.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief