Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thoughts Left on the Page

installation view, Daniela Campins: In the Middle of This Frase, Eastside International (ESXLA), Sept 15th - Oct 20th, 2017

Part one of a series, working title: "Postcapitalist Painting"


To the outside world, it seems that Los Angeles’s cup runneth over with new art museums and high-end galleries. Some of these new, moneyed cathedrals of fetishized capital exist to present high-end contemporary art collections that include million dollar acquisitions by the likes of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Richard Serra and Basquiat (Broad, Marciano). Others are sprung from real estate development riches (Main Museum), or are new incarnations of older, established institutions (ICA-LA). Without digging too much deeper, one could be forgiven for thinking that the art world begins and ends among these spaces and the new mega gallery outposts that are springing up along side them, affirming the legitimacy of the art within, in part, by their market performance (Hauser and Wirth, Spruth Magers, Maccarone, Matthew Marks, etc). The art exhibited at these places wins the public relations battle, and this side of the scene has its front to the world at large. But beyond the spectacle of this there is a community of established, working, contemporary artists at the ground-level in Los Angeles producing important work, despite little engagement with the moneyed side of the art world-industrial complex. A great deal of what they produce is painting. Such a great deal in fact, that some definitive currents and strategies have emerged among the painters of this community. What they all have in common is a direct and human-scaled approach – most of these works range in size from modest to minimally heroic; and a strong indexical sense of the presence of the artist themselves – as this work is not industrially fabricated in quantity by the alienated labor of technicians in warehouses but hand produced in the studios and studio spaces of artists who are more than likely maintaining a living alongside their practice that has little to do with the market demands du jour. Some of the overlapping aesthetic and conceptual groupings that have emerged among the work of these artists range from edge-to-edge intuitive abstract strategies, to more materially-based pattern and grid riffs all the way to deconstructed, figurative investigations and more.

Thoughts Left on the Page

Daniela Campins is an artist within the intuitive abstraction grouping, and the works in her solo exhibition In the Middle of This Frase are modest in size but dense in painterly effect and evocation. Originally from Venezuela, Campins has been exhibiting her work and organizing exhibitions in and around the Los Angeles area at artist-run and alternative spaces for the better part of a decade since graduating from UC Santa Barbara in 2011. An aesthetic comparison of Campins' work worth analyzing is to German-born, London-based painter Tomma Abts. Campins’ works are less severe and geometric, but like Abts, they intrigue with their layers of composition and spatial illusion. The effects of Campins’ work are of a slower, less trompe l’oeil derived variety that feels arrived at through its own making; the thoughts are left on the page, as it were. In most of Campins' paintings, the topmost layer is populated by by thin, deliberate, strings of drawn-on paint that either begin to describe a scalloped outline or straight-ish lines bending at sharp angles. In one painting, Margen Inferior Grande, the straight lines have directional force and implication, an arrow, a greater-than math sign. In another called Chill Spot, the converging lines of the V-shape and the loopy scallops meet, the earth touching the sky. Though the obvious surface imagery is simple, a deeper delve into each work reveals layers of decisions, each one continuing to vibrate with the immediacy of its execution. The lines in each painting summon archetypal notions - clouds, mountains, houses - as well as handwritten text. Text and imagery are dialects of one another, and in these paintings, the elegant final forms of the low relief, linear marks are highlighted elements of a revealed process that lies between pentimento and palimpsest.

Chill Spot 2017
acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches
Margen Inferior Grande 2017
acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches

I Am In the Pause, a blood crimson, 16 x 12 inch canvas, is scrawled upon in white paint from side to side in rows. A buckshot pattern of acute gaps in the red reveal a scrubbed on purple-pink background. Underneath it all, like veins under the skin, vertical zig-zags, larger versions of the white scrawls, run from top to bottom. Like many of the works, the foundation is exposed; the insides are exerting a visible influence on the outsides. The painting Dissolved in Clarity has at least one, possibly two other compositions in the stack of layers before the yellow-grey topcoat underneath the delicate strands of bright green and ultramarine that summon imagery of…a building in the clouds? Enveloped in smoke? The resulting built up surface exudes the narrative of its own making, with individual moments of that narrative continuing to haunt the work; faint pink shapes appearing like after images, sparks of bright blue under the green lines. There are no choices made by Campins in these works that are completely erased - they are overlaid, covered up, scrubbed out, painted over, painted out, re-assimilated and re-drawn, wearing the experience of their creation like lines on a face, or calluses on hands. In Let Me In, the foreground merges with background, the past with the present. Thin strings of bright blue and red push forward despite being linked to painted over prior elements, now seeming like echoes or ghosts. 

Dissolved In Clarity 2017
acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
I Am In the Pause 2017
acrylic on canvas, 16 x12 inches

Two related paintings, Scurry and Stay Up Way Up, feature thin pink strands that shift the compositional emphasis with regards to the edges of the frame. In Scurry, the lines feel like they are unsuccessfully herding the green, purple and blue splotches that activate the layers of space underneath. Amongst the painted-over lines of past linear elements, the splotches seem to fall like leaves, resisting the futile caress of the pink filaments of paint. The lines of Scurry begin to enclose an area of the purple-black cascading background. Any splotches have been assimilated into this allover, scrubbed application, save for a few breaking away in the lower right. The lack of obvious middle-ground forms and open design positions Scurry as the most contemplative of all the works, highlighting and emphasizing a fuzzy empty space that feels distant, vast, and deep. The largest work of the exhibition is Faya, at 30 x 24 1/2 inches, whose clever title shares a phonetic pronunciation with the Spanish word for failure, falla. Despite its title, Faya successfully articulates a dramatic complementary contrast that, unlike its cousin Stay Up Way Up, makes no attempt (or a failed attempt) to herd the floating middle ground splotches with its thick bold strokes. With a decidedly more ambiguous space than the others, the muddy orange line work is on the same layer as the splotches in some areas, overlapping them in others. Subtle shifts in scale push the pictorial space back towards the upper right, while an adjacent highlighted bright orange line segment leaps off of the surface.

Stay Up Way Up, 2017 
acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 inches
Faya, 2017
acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 ½ inches

Campins has some fellow travelers of similar painterly interests among the thriving community of working artists in Los Angeles. These include John Mills, whose canvases also present marks and shapes that evoke written text as much as liminal imagery. Also connected are the canvases of Stacy Wendt, who shares an affinity with both Campins and Mills for the spatially flatter elements in terms of marks, lines, patterned shape, and composition, all with a freehanded, process oriented feel. As well there are shades of the lines and arrangements of Allison Miller, specifically the use of the linear V-shape as a compositional element. New York abstract painters such as Jason Karolak and EJ Hauser evoke similar compositional moves involving deliberate line work and a process oriented feel. The individual strategies of all these painters highlight and amplify the effect of abstract imagery seeming to be in an arrested state of becoming something more specific and definite – be it pictorial imagery, written language, or merely a feeling or sense.

Scurry, 2017 
acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 inches
Let Me In, 2017
acrylic on canvas, 12 x 10 inches

installation view, Daniela Campins: In the Middle of This Frase, Eastside International (ESXLA), Sept 15th - Oct 20th, 2017

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