Showing at Gallery Thomas Jaeckel through May 6, New York-based RIME’s densely layered yet suggestively transparent compositions feel like an act of thought trying to grasp itself without resorting to definite concepts or the imposition of spatial boundaries. Put another way, RIME’s paintings are something like cognitive schemata, bundling together truncated iconographies in a unified vision of hypnagogic bemusement. They seem to embrace industrialization—or at least those parts of it that fall into confluence with natural symmetries.
The painting which shares the exhibition’s title could be described as a work of psychedelic abstraction. The rudiments of a face are visible, indefinitely receding into linearly painted arcs and glyph-like intimations of a figure (RIME’s paintings everywhere verge on a kind of self-wrought symbology). All this is accomplished with a brightly-colored palette that recalls Native American textiles. And while I’m assuming that this particular painting—"CODE"—signals a face, this may only be how I personally perceive it. RIME’s paintings are carefully crafted nebulae that operate like a spiritualized form of Cubism, allowing viewers to see their own subjective histories reflected back at them in exploded tessalations. Ghetto Slang Hot (2018), for example, is nothing less than a diagrammatic retracing of the interior and exterior, front and back, and all the intervening spatial minutia of a dynamic process represented as simultaneous and layered. Rather than imposing a single vantage point, viewers can decide the tone and subject-matter of the painting after their own interests and needs.
Just as Cubism had to reckon with those core components of 19th century art—the figure, the landscape, the still-life—RIME incorporates iconographic entities only to gradually dematerialize them. Overall, “CODE” could be said to incorporate three different bodies of work, three separate modalities. First is the iconographic, the paintings comprising weirdling, cartoon-styled figures. Next are the smaller works, where these same figures are presented alongside a word, as though quickened by it. Last are those works that are the least representationally bound: works of pure process where every trace of signification is swallowed by ribbons of color.
Cubism can be considered a conscientious re-examination of how artistic representations of light filter and distort the way objects are perceived. Preserving the analytic and synthetic modes of the cubist artist, RIME finds himself engaged with process in and for itself. Rather than abstract from anything, his works are performative; rather than recreate something external to themselves, they're energetic movements suspended in an autotelic repose.
RIME’s most memorable compositional strategy involves organizing a picture’s content so as to highlight the total absence of a unified center apart from the surface of the canvas. What tends to stand out in these compositions is a single word written on the canvas, surrounded by porous lines and transparent brushstrokes that refuse to lend themselves to anything like a pictorial whole. Sometimes this word reads like a command—START, CODE—at other times it seems to willfully misdirect viewers from what they're looking at: “sight,” “train,” and “pause” decipher like illustrations that refuse to illustrate. Either way, language doesn’t signify, but appears. Whatever indiciations or connotations a word might possess is offset against an image, or the portrayal of a graduated process.
As CODE includes works made over the past year or so, it’s worth noting how the use of language develops from the earlier paintings to the later ones. In the earlier works, language is often presented alongside graffiti-inspired, iconographic figures. Here, the denotative capacity of language is neutralized by figures that seem to link with the words only by chance. In the least representational and more fluxional works—that is, the most recent ones—the insertion of a small word into a composition seems to humiliate language, the signifying character of words being unable to express the inexpressible.
Yet it’s this very use of language, even in the most wilding, fragmented works, that clues viewers into to what RIME is doing in his art. If we think of how language means, its intentionality and capacity to direct the course of our thinking, then RIME is deliberately presenting us with what language cannot describe. The method remains the same: a single word disturbing the wholeness of the image. However, when the image is not a whole, but a layered process, the word doesn’t offset a thing but instead gets swallowed in the sheer dynamism of the picture. In a similar way, the philosopher is rendered speechless before the Leviathan.
Finally, the framed faces on exhibit occupy a place somewhere between the graffito-like figures offset by a word and the strictly processional works. These modestly-sized works reminded me of Basquiat, which doubtless echos RIME’s other career as a graffiti artist. Here RIME stylizes the melding of word and image. Not only do the words seem to provide a title for each face, but the jagged recognizability of the faces makes each word popping up at the margin of the picture feel far less stultified than simply adequate, as only befits a name. WM
Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer based in New York. You can find his work in BOMB, artnet News, Archinect, Imperial Matters, Folder, Hyperallergic, and elsewhere. His chapbook THE TTTROUBLE WWITH SUUNDAAYS was published by Louffa Press in 2014. He curates a reading series on contemporary poetics at Hauser & Wirth Publishers, West 22nd Street.view all articles from this author