Paul Sevigny: Sight Unseen
July 15 through August 21, 2021
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, August 2021
Paul Sevigny received a studio degree in 1994 from the College of Charleston. After moving through several careers, including music, finance, and nightlife, in 2017 he went back to painting, committing himself to an abstract painterly language. Many of the paintings are red, and many of these suggest a slightly hidden figure, although it is hard to tell for sure. These works have been influenced by the earlier work of the New York School, but they also hold their own as examples of art being made now. The tradition of lyric abstraction dies hard in New York!
The red paintings predominate, and they are truly strong works of art. They are filled with rounded shapes and forms, which fit together like jigsaw pieces in a puzzle; Strangers (2021) is composed of shapes that are a dark, mysterious red, with two rounded, headlike figures, one black and the other red, suggesting the presence of people in an otherwise resolutely nonobjective work of art. It is a fine piece, in which the implications of the abstraction are made more complex by suggestions of a more figurative sort. Foxboro ‘87 (2021) is a similar painting, one in which the darker forms embellish the generally red aura of the work, complicating it to the point where near black and luminous red forms balance each other, not so much facing off in opposition as collaborating in a way that sets the painting in slow motion. Again, the different forms fit together like parts of a puzzle, making it a cohesive work of art.
After the War (2020), another red painting constructed as well of black parts that contrast with and intensify the overall red color, has a provocative name, although we don’t know what its meaning may be. An abstract painting is hard put to tie to a particular place or event, but the elements of the painting intrude upon each other, so it might make sense to see the painting as conveying an aggression of sorts. Almost (2021) shows what looks like a female figure on the left and one of Sevigny’s dark, headlike ovals in the upper middle of the painting. The inclusion of a recognizable figure tends to place the abstract elements in the background, so that what we have is a hybrid, in which the nonobjective vies with the recognizable. This group of red paintings is unusually strong, especially in light of their ability to register both tonal variety and a sense of connectedness between the various elements that come into play.
There is another body of work, with a greater number of colors and having a more complex layout of parts. The paintings are roughly edged and complex; they grow on you over time. Baby (2020) shows two large, bright pink, bald heads; underneath them is a complicated pathwork of differently hued abstract elements, which one assumes is a roundabout representation of clothing. A blue sky and a green background support the image; the infants’ faces are barely readable, so a grotesquerie pervades the painting. And Civilization (2020) is a large, complicated work, in which pinkish-red, yellow-brown, green, and blue parts, mostly straight edged, combine to make a picture of unusual depth and complexity, in which the various pieces combine to create a seeming city seen from above–a version of abstract architecture, likely a representation of civilized life’s ability to build permanent, communicative structures.
Sevigny is a painter full in keeping with aspects of the New York School. But he is his own man as well. His work relays into contemporary culture the awareness of earlier abstract painting, yet it is also something new--a mélange of colors, forms, and themes we need to understand as being thoroughly contemporary. Lyric abstraction continues in ways that commend the past, but new steps must be made. Sevigny has advanced the understanding of today’s painting in a way that talks about form and theme in a new fashion. This must be done if we are to develop an already highly established idiom. Good art is not only about what has come before it, it also concerns what is next. Sevigny has found an opening within which to maneuver, one balanced by what has preceded it and by what will come in the future, and he does this well. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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