Tuesday, 25 September 2007



(First published 19th September 2007)

Pattern and print are paired with particular persuasion and piquancy in the pivotal paintings of Lari Pittman. Pittman mines a rich seam of ornamental and iconic motifs drawn from common graphics, tunnels within abstraction for figuration; lodes layouts to further fields. His current show at Regen Projects, LA advances his concern with tone and volume; deepens his objects with situation and other embellishment.

Pittman emerged in the mid 80s, when his work offered sharp contrast to prevailing trends; a fading Neo-Expressionism (see also Post 40), the strict geometries of Neo-Geo, (see also Post 24) the historicism and pastiche of appropriation (see also Post 37). Yet Pittman retained a keen interest in allegory and symbolism, offered an intriguing amalgam of biomorphic and geometric abstraction, drew on classical as well as folk and contemporary motifs. As well, he initially embraced the painterly or gestural together with the regularities of print or stencil.

Yet the works are not compromises or half measures and what Pittman demonstrates is how the contrasts can be ordered in a radically widened project. Pittman arrived at the formula gradually, an early work such as Alptraume (Nightmares) (1981) reveals a Neo-Expressionist taste in drawing, but already a discrete ‘boxing’ or layout of parts (see also Post 2). With Venom to Serum (1982) divisions become more pronounced, a relativity or continuity between opposites is stressed, while imagery elsewhere grows more intricate, less Expressionist. Following works such as An American Place (1986) and Where The Soul Intact will Shed its Scabs (8264 AD) (1987-88) juggle an even more diverse range of motifs and techniques, revel in symmetry and pattern even as they spread to asymmetry and more figurative motifs. The work also begins to shed gestural elements and to layer or superimpose intricate webs of imagery.

The work is firstly about this generosity or accommodation, an acceptance of the organic and mechanical, symbolic and literal, unified and eccentric. The titles direct this to a state of the nation, a stage to the spiritual or personal. It is at once an adventure or voyage, a plea for tolerance or patience, an appreciation of a greater, if fainter design. And the mood is appropriately a mixture of whimsy and trepidation. The theme develops with works like The Sounds of Belief to an Atheist are Very Touching (1988) and This Expedition, Beloved, Despised, Continues Regardless (1989) where figures take on greater prominence (even as just eyes or silhouettes) while layers acquire a new delicacy or transparency, as Pittman adds airbrushing and possibly computer graphics to his repertory of techniques.

Pittman’s work at this time introduces an explicit homoeroticism, in works such as This Wholesomeness, Beloved and Despised, Continues Regardless (1990). But this too comes decorated in a range of permutations and conventions, a teetering of symmetries and pattern that gives the tolerance of picture a more acute object. Throughout the 90s the theme and means become more elaborate, the work excels in hackneyed signage or typefaces, in deft transparency, inversions, reversals and variation on scale for a given motif. Actually they can make the work seem hardly like a painting at all. The work tends to hard edges and flat colours, adding to the sense of a print source, although now exploited to private or obscure ends, or vice versa (see also Post 13).

Yet the latitude granted variation tends to undermine even as it underlines theme. Latitude carries through to sexuality, physical endurance or distress, natural transformation or cycles. The organic is channelled, plumbed, cultivated and regulated; the pictorial is framed in a layout or chart, combined and captioned. Yet the seed or theme grows smaller for it, more indistinct for all the ornament and incident. Where frills and decoration initially constructed an underlying theme, their proliferation increasingly threatens to diminish it. This anxiety soon figures as the underlying sentiment. Throughout the 90s the work increasingly fills or evens out its layout of pictures. The sense is of a dispersal of urgency to all parts, arriving at a field of frantic icons.

With the turn of the century the dispersal abates. The work drops text, simplifies layers somewhat; draws toward the more figurative and architectural. Tone and modelling now prompt other continuities and while Pittman is hardly about to surrender his layouts or filigree, the work acquires more spatial depth and cohesion, tone now urges a brooding rather than shrill disquiet. He still deals in a surging or rampant biomorphism, a metaphorical virus perhaps, at once elegant and sweeping while intricate and chaotic. Colour and line continue to be subtle and surprising. But the excitement remains in how far he can stretch realism, invite abstraction, permit painting.

1 comment:

CAP said...

Thanks for that.