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Ross Bleckner Paints Like Freddie Mercury Sings

September 12, 2010

Hats off to Patrick Painter for penning one of the most poetic, funny and accurate titles for a show in a very long time. I’m pleased to report that this impressive albeit sparse (more on that in a second) exhibition has been extended to October 9th and thus a visit to Patrick Painter Gallery at Bergamont Station in Santa Monica should be on every Angelino’s aesthetic errand list.
The season of new is upon us. So why should four paintings from the 80’s work such magic. They’re relevant. They’re resonant. And they prove that craftsmanship at the behest of metaphor and poetry will mostly stand the test of time.

Detail of Stripe with Bird, 1989

Stripe with Bird, 1989 is a tall vertical composition with a veil of alternating light and dark stripes both highlighting and masking colorful underpainting. One distinct and less blended purple stripe, about three-quarters to the right, divides the composition much like a Barnett Newman zip. And then there is that bird, that damn bird! A Hummingbird to be precise, flying left to right, suspended in the upper left hand quadrant. Delicately rendered with wisp-like brushstrokes, it acts as an illusionistic “fuck you” to the rigors of painterly abstraction. Sweet meets rigorous. Trite meets academic. Sentimental meets calculated. The emotional simultaneity is galling yet wholly successful. And, yes, the whole allusion to “flipping the bird” should not be lost on you.

Ross Bleckner, Untitled, 1985

Next up is an oval canvas (Untitled, 1985) depicting a somewhat gothic interior. A compass-like pattern in the floor almost looks like it’s made of terrazzo and chandeliers festoon the air above. What strikes me about this piece is the utter vacancy of a room that has all the trappings of entertaining. The party’s over, perhaps and all that’s left is the architecture of opulence and excess. When left unpopulated this room and the landscape of reverie seem vacuous.

The smallest piece in the show is titled Small Count, No Count and dates from 1989. Best described as a star field, the piece has illusionary depth which Bleckner repeatedly denies. The harsh white dots have a straight out of the tube application that undercuts the gently blended glowing orbs behind them. Then there is this patch of wiped away paint at the top center of the canvas that reveals the weave of the canvas, reminding the viewer of inherent artifice of painting.

Unknown Quantities of Light (Part 1), 1987 is by far the largest painting measuring 12 feet wide. Rigorous vertical stripes undulate between light and dark, again with a pallet of underpainted colors. I have astigmatism and being about three feet in front of this work enticed a pulsing optical vertigo. Calculated or accidental is beside the point. It’s thrilling to have a painting fuck with your optical nerve in tangible ways like that. And rest assured, that’s not all there is for the art world is littered with gee wiz art that technically dazzles but is narratively empty.

In the Nineties, Bleckner was prolific with a wet on wet technique that produced images that indexed cell structures, human tissue and macro/micro pendulum swings. See too many of these and they dilute the aesthetic impact of Bleckner’s visual paradigm. Flowers and decorative nostalgia crept into Bleckner’s iconography in the aughts. And so it’s nice to see just four paintings from any period. Bleckner’s artistry is at its most effective when seen in isolation. As with powerful poetry, a single poem can pack a more powerful punch than a heavy volume. To witness an excellent trajectory of Bleckner’s artistic productivity for just under 30 years take a tour at the artist’s own website.

Small Count, No Count and Unknown Quantities of Light (Part 1)

Ross Bleckner Paints like Freddie Mercury Sings

Patrick Painter Gallery at Bergamont Station, West Gallery through October 9th, 2010

2525 Michigan Ave, Unit B2 – Santa Monica, CA 90404

Photographs of the exhibition used with the gracious permission of the Patrick Painter Gallery.


From → TruffleHunting

  1. Thanks again Mario, for highlighting the cream of the LA crop — I will definitely go see it.

  2. Bob White permalink

    But Freddy Mercury is dead.

    • You know, that did occur to me. But rather than lapping up the journalistic catnip that the title seems to be, I just went with the art. Check out how David Pagel of the LA Times jumped at the chance to use the bait. Lazy journalism but brilliant Gallery for baiting properly.

  3. That pulsing optical vertigo happened to me too in front of a Bleckner at the Guggenheim. But I thought everybody would get it, not just we the astigmatic. Now please explain about Freddy Mercury.

    • I chalked it up to astigmatism but it might be that way for all. As for Freddy, well I might have to do a part two, by the looks of the comments. Stay tuned.

  4. Boss Moss permalink

    But what do you really think? Don’t hold back it’s unhealthy!

    • Okay Boss,
      I thought that I had made it clear, albeit in maybe diplomatic terms but here goes: Bleckner is a rockin painter. Technically out of this world. But here’s the thing, he’s sort of persona non grata in the last 10-15 years because his work has become suspiciously “pretty.”
      I buy into that to a point. His themes of loss, aids, social commentary all via metaphor may have had a little more tooth in the 80’s. Maybe he became more comfortable with his fame and renown, not to mention his prices. But evne the more recent work is elegant and I believe will stand the test of time. The work from the eighties is really great though and the show is fantastic. Market fluctuations be damned, this is a show worth seeing. His work, when it was up at the Broad debut at LACMA looked fresh and relevant in the same way Robert Longo is begining to shine again with the focus of some time having lapsed.
      To some the show may have been more accurately titled “Ross Bleckner Painted like Freddie Mercury Sang”

  5. Bob White permalink

    “Ross Bleckner paints like a Queen”?

  6. Unbelievable.

    I heard Another One Bites the Dust yesterday on my way to work and thought, “I want to write like Freddie Mercury sings.” Today, I found your post about Ross Bleckner painting like Freddie Mercury sings.


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