Art Lies, Volume 3, October-November 1994

Painting as Etiquette
by Mark Frohman
Process Strategy Irony
Like a hypnotist's wheel, Buddhist's mandala,
or those gigantic candy-shop lollipops, Andy
Mann's swirling "spin art" lures us into Pro-
cess Strategy Irony, a show of seven abstract
painters presented by DiverseWorks and cu-
rated by artist Aaron Parazette. The show's
cerebral title doesn't prepare us for Mann's
opulent gush as welcome mat. We sort
through the show's tripartite logic only after
taking in the exhibition's snap-tight visual
sequence of circles, triangles, blurs, and lines
-- the stuff that makes abstraction go.
While the vocabulary is carried over to some
extent from Modernism's fascinating saga of
squiggles, squares and nothingness, the ex-
tended philosophical forays into the grid, the
void, and, of course, the id, are largely left
behind. With different degrees of conviction,
some of these artists find value and justifica-
tion in the act of creation itself while others
look outward and around them (particularly
towards technology) in giving abstraction a
contemporary makeover.
Without the belief in the "purity" and freedom
abstraction once held out for modern artists --
apparently lost today from both artists and
viewers - even sincere works like Joe Mancu-
so's slate-grey encircling circles and Susie
Rosmarin's black on white geometric shards
(if Ad Reinhardt's and Robert Ryman's
monochromes were run through a paper
shredder...) have the tendency to stay close to
the artists' navels. On the other side of the
spectrum we have Jeff Elrod's and Giovanni
Garcia-Fenech's high irony dead-ends: clever,
but stuck in predetermined destinations.
This conflict of faith plays itself out politely

on the gallery's walls where varying styles
and intentions choose corners like uneasy but
well-behaved guests at a Hollywood cocktail
party. It's easy to walk through and admire
the surfaces; the similar scale and simple ar-
rangements lend a sense of coherency before
the brain can translate its optical input into
meaning. The paintings take charge of the
hollow gallery space without necessarily
dominating it, or us.
It's a stretch to say that any one artist fits into
all three categories implied by the title but
each artist could be said to apply atleast one
of these qualities to their work. This multiple
choice-like curatorial strategy (process?) re-
sults in a speculative arrangement that shys
away from either dictating meaning or pin-
pointing it.
The irony is easy enough to track down, turn-
ing on the transformation of worldly refer-
ences into pictorial abstraction. For Many
contemporary artists it's no longer about ab-
stracting from the world, but reprocessing the
already abstracted surfaces of the information
age. Elrod's large black or blue monochromes
are enlarged Atari video games (first genera-
tion primitives like Asteroids and Breakout no
less, formative symbols in the pre-history of
cyberspace for the generation that was pre-
pubescent in 1980). These works actually do
suggest a key pictorial break in the way we
conceive of form and space, a way of dividing
the pictorial field that only makes sense at the
end of the twentieth century. Only, it looks
like Elrod walked away in the middle of his
work. The paint sits there suggesting nothing
more than a schematic brush job rather than
the depthless no-space it might have aspired
to. They're quick-reads that deserve an up-
grade in production values.
Where you know Elrod's smirking until he
gets bored (real quickly), Garcia-Fenech

Io

Huerta, Benito; Ballou, Chris & Loftus, Kelley. Art Lies, Volume 3, October-November 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228036/. Accessed May 30, 2015.