The current exhibition at Algus Greenspon Gallery in the West Village harbors the 1980-1983 paintings of Peter Young. “Linear Weave (Vertical Fold)” is a step back in time from the sweeping range of his paintings (1995-2004) shown by the same gallery just last year. Viewers know they’re walking into a focused setting; the paintings are cohesive and speak to a particularity of thought and theme. And yet, the tidiness of the exhibition is a necessary constraint to prevent oversaturation. Like a small but dangerous beast, the show hosts few but powerful paintings which mark an intimidating sense of artistic precision. That the paintings resemble Navajo textiles or pixelated imagery (or the two images in one) is immediately recognizable. A look at the paintings is like having the rug swept up under the feet and replaced with a pixelated one instead, if such a thing could be imagined. The paintings’ intricacy and precision evoke an admiration of craftsmanship, while the ability to differentiate between each square, line, and change of color in a specific painting produces a humility towards the work’s patient and sacred construction. Just as many Navajo rituals involve days of silent but active participation, Young’s paintings bespeak the quiet commitment of the artist’s resolve to honor his process.
Close inspection reveals the missed stitches of artistic weaving; the uneven lines and bleeding colors—undetectable from a distance—invite the proximal viewer to imagine what was happening in Young’s environment, both mentally and geographically, while he was painting. Did he get distracted? Did the paint spill or could it just simply not follow gravity’s path? Imagining each possibility is exciting, and becomes a story in the painting’s narrative in the same way that a missed stitch or blemish on a textile immediately interjects the artist back into his or her creation. Young is present all the way through, but a few steps back on the gallery floor re-objectivizes the work as a complex, digitalized network, all too human despite its technological connotations. As if the very ground we walk on was given a modern update, or if the soil and dirt and wood of the earth joined the digital age.
A similar thread runs through all of the paintings, presented in the gallery’s large, open room. The sense of being attracted to one painting over another and deciding where to start in the room becomes a very conscious activity. At the initial distance, color stands out as the distinguishing arbiter determining attraction, and viewers becomes their own hyperchromatic tour guides. In her 1971 Artforum piece on Young, Ellen Johnson says: “One may ask if a sign can become a symbol without a genuine and general cultural meaning behind it; nevertheless, the zigzag crossing orange lines on a red ground in #15, 1970 suggest the tribal symbol for streaks of lightning shooting through the sky.” There’s something elusive about the way that Young is able, as Johnson suggests here, to make a sign into a symbol. His paintings are a testament to an extremely personal, subjective perspective that nonetheless preserves a cultural sanctity writ large.
“Linear Weave (Vertical Fold)” is on view at Algus Greenspon Gallery at 71 Morton Street through December 21st.
– Amie Zimmer
Images courtesy of Algus Greenspon, New York