By CALLA BAI October 20, 2023
Wade Guyton’s Instagram is a study in seriality. A few times a year, and without any sort of temporal consistency, he posts a picture of the view from his studio. He is very compositionally consistent, however, though time paints each photo with different affect. Some are dotted with soft blobs of raindrops on glass, some are torn with sun stained clouds and hazy horizons, and some, filtered by the screens of his windows and my phone - it strains my eyes. I unfollowed him after visiting his latest show at Matthew Marks, for my eyes have strained enough. I don’t mean to mislead, as I felt moved by his work after only a couple of visits. My “enoughness,” rather, is more a response to the demanding physicality of the show.
35 canvases, all measuring 84 by 69 inches, have conspired with silver racks to create a steely maze. Some hang on the walls conventionally, while others float miraculously throughout the gallery, their heavy surfaces fastened to the metallic pipes that shoot across the space. The racks mimic his method of storage in his studio, allowing for a density of canvases far greater than that of traditional painting shows. Yet, the nakedness of the structures conjures the severely austere: exposed plumbing in unfinished basements, sidewalk overhangs from construction, or even abandoned clothing retailers (which holds truth, in Guyton’s case, as he repurposed clothes racks left behind in his studio from the previous tenant).
Coupled with the works themselves, the show is uninviting, like remnants of a cyberpunk future. To view the works, you are beckoned to file into the grid, leaving only a few feet between you and the grand canvases. I suppose you could peer between the silver pipes to get a more distanced view of the work, though the thought of a painting across the room could hardly distract from the one right in front of you. The planes are engulfing. Most of them depict the same things – a photo of his studio floor; a photo of his existing work; screenshots of the New York Times – but they are rasterized and executed into head spinning variation - even abstraction. Though their scale and linen supports proclaim the grandeur of traditional painting, Guyton creates these works using a commercial printer.
His Epson inkjet suffers abuse, for the 44 inch paper printer is tasked with the mark making for a 69 inch sheet of linen. To accomplish this, Guyton folds the unstretched linen in half, resulting in a bifurcation down the middle of the finished work. This inky rift dons every one of the works, indexing his role in the automated process and pushing us out of the windows of virtuality they could have been. The rift’s impact on the images also takes structural effect, as the two halves vibrate with their own misregistration. Headlines are doubled, truncated, appended in the wrong place; I long to toggle either side so that their contours line up cleanly.
In several of the strongest works, this effect is doubled when the subject is another one of Guyton’s photo paintings. The rift that runs central is depicted twice, then divided by the true material rift that comes from the physical printing of the linen canvas at hand. In his works referencing the The New York Times, a rare moment of them exciting me arose when the doubly fractalized headline, “Trump Surrenders to Authorities to Face Criminal Charges,” was overpowered by the AARP advertisement above it. Big red and white pills spelling out “SICK” were shattered and repeated so that an eerie three “K’s” managed to catch the eye.
Aside from the occasional felicitous coincidence, however, Guyton’s use of the news publication does not shake me with intentionality; in fact, I was first irked by them. I’ve long been interested in other artists who manipulate The New York Times – Fred Tomaselli, Alexandra Ball, Sho Shibuya – but with Guyton, I wondered if they had been overwrung. The screenshots of headlines on his phone seemed an unwelcome departure from the meta-majority of studio and production images. They are lazy images, ink stained JPEGS, grasping at commentary, stumbling into empty space. It wasn’t until my second visit when I wondered if that had been the point.
At least four of the works (perhaps more, but beyond the four, identifiable markers have been totally lost) feature a highly manipulated image of his studio floor, catching his sneaker in the lower left corner. They are filtered to the brink of recognition, their acrid reds, blues, and greens, pulled and streaked in a manner that sits somewhere between Richter-esque gesture and television malfunction. Their painterly ambiguity has won my favor over the newsprint ones, but in truth, they are all poor images. They have all been tattered, they are all “lazy” in the sense that their originality derives from their deterioration, and they all ring with Hito Steyerl’s defensive words: “The poor image is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation. In short: it is about reality.”
So I wonder what is more real. Perhaps it is not the virtually pristine New York Times app on my phone that buzzes with new disturbing headlines on the hour. Perhaps it is Guyton’s dirty linens, with print that doesn’t quite fit or register properly onto the canvas; with scuffs of ink they’ve picked up from being piled atop one another, tossed on the ground; with glitchy ads immortalized by a compressive screenshot and importing and resizing. Can our reality ever be tucked neatly into word sized packages as I’m doing now? Even with an objective as limited and relatively stakeless as reviewing an art exhibition, I am squeezing a taut balloon trying to put my sights and feelings into words.
Guyton’s works pop the balloon, marring the surfaces and making a mess along the way. These conditions seem a “realer” visual splice of our world, however manipulated or manufactured. This conclusion could never have been reached without the glimpses Guyton affords us into his studio. In addition to the illegible renditions of his studio floor, there are clearer pictures of found sculptures around his workspace. In a few works, we see images of piles of un-stretched, printed linen, the image itself composed of and mistakenly stained by the very ink that unrestrainedly leaks from one sheet of linen to the next when in the pile.
Close up pictures of dripping ink are printed in, well, dripping ink. I caught myself photographing a work of a photograph of a work. I’m dizzied. Before I have a moment to think, I’ve become a participant in these works’ “poorness.” My phone camera has reconfigured the printed bitmaps into a new set of pixels; my worsening eyesight has deteriorated the image even further. Unknowingly, I’ve widened the black hole: the collision site of the literal and the virtual, where consumption and creation collapse into the printed surfaces, an index of the infinite lives of images in our digital age. On the outer edge of the gallery, hung on a stable wall, I find the view from Guyton’s studio window.
Of course it is bisected like all the others, but the image is otherwise intact. It’s the same image he posted on his Instagram just a few months ago, on May 2nd. I stare at the buildings, the blur of raindrops on the window, the moody sky. It’s relief. Guyton has not transformed or filtered the image to oblivion yet; the picture is young, barely poor. The Web hasn’t yet gotten its bastardizing clutches on it, so I can still sit with the sun and sky that puts his studio view into a ceaseless state of shifting. I think I like it that way, but I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time. WM
Calla Bai is a writer living in New York. She graduated from Harvard University where she studied the history of art and architecture. She also enjoys writing about food (@breadcallabread).view all articles from this author