|A proclivity for contradiction is evident in Steven Foy’s recent solo exhibition, The Arrangement Series, at the Broadway Gallery. A minimalist whose economic use of geometric shapes elicits a vocabulary of the nuance, a brilliant colorist with a penchant for discreet shades of gray, an abstract painter whose subject matter is the failure of abstraction, Foy is an artist who inhabits the discreet space of the in-between, a logic of the a-logic, where essential orders or arrangements are haunted by death.
A proclivity for contradiction is evident in Steven Foy’s recent solo exhibition, The Arrangement Series, at the Broadway Gallery. A minimalist whose economic use of geometric shapes elicits a vocabulary of the nuance, a brilliant colorist with a penchant for discreet shades of gray, an abstract painter whose subject matter is the failure of abstraction, Foy is an artist who inhabits the discreet space of the in-between, a logic of the a-logic, where essential orders or arrangements are haunted by death.
In Steven Foy’s work, abstraction is at work against abstraction; this is a double operation. Though one might hypothesize at first that this is an exercise or foil, a mere ruse to help Foy exploit the potentials for formal innovation inherent in abstraction, one might recognize, instead, that this operation of “abstraction against abstraction” is a core impulse driving his obsession with testing the limits of meaning. Continuity plays against discontinuity, the presentable against the unpresentable, and order against disorder; Foy carries us to the edge where distinctions either dissolve or do not yet exist, a non-place where inside and outside are no longer relevant. Foy’s arrangements, like cut flowers, beckon our lady Medusa on the point of a void.
Discreet, colorful geometric forms—constellations of egg-shaped forms, thick lines and rectangular pillars in shades of orange, red, and blue or neutral pale fleshy pinks, eggplant, and gray—emerge like organic accidents from saturated monochromatic grids. Deep muddy browns, midnight blues, and shades of green offer parallels between art and nature, or art and nature as a work of art, while elements such as the grid, emphasizing the weave of the canvas, possess a metaphoric power capable of linking, for example, the painting canvas, fields, terrains, and empty sheets of lined paper. Fecund or barren, productive or sterile, generative or corrupt, meaning circulates and returns, and then steals away, quietly, in the dark of night, a night where all crows are black. The silence of the interstice is incessant, a noisy echo of movements and detours.
A horizontal line of six small works on one wall of the gallery reflects Foy’s interest in working serially; each of these works repeats a set of thick lines, compositions that allude to a row of painter’s brushes lying flat on canvas. While the serial nature of these paintings implies repetition of the same, imperfect lines and shapes, overlapping edges, and variations in shade, emphasize the unique. Space contracts and expands as an arrangement; random juxtaposition, anomalies, and irregular shapes introduce patterns and relationships that are unpredictable. Each painting, each line and brush stroke becomes an inscription of the temporal moment of creation and, for Foy, death.
No line is exactly the same, nor can these slight variations be repeated. This series admits temporal disparities, a temporal opposition between the unpredictable unique event and an a-temporal repetition of the same. Either way, neither impulse—the act of painting—nor repetition is decidedly on the side of life or death.
The three large works in the exhibition showed that abstraction is corporeal for Foy. With the larger works, the textured grid makes an impact. While artists, such as Chuck Close, have used the grid to document the presence of the hand of the master craftsman, Foy emphasizes the grids’ corporeality. Crafting his grids carefully Foy lies the canvas on the floor, where the marks of his process are recorded, but the significance of the grid is the surface as a body as such, or in general, an unformed anti-object, a thick, weighty matter that can resist artistic intentionality.
Foy’s strategy, reminiscent of the cut-up style of Burroughs, emphasizes the fortuitous, the accidental, and the nuance. Meaning is not intentional, or given, but produced. A notion that abstraction proceeds by subtracting the superfluous in order to present the essential is shown to fail; the truth of abstraction appears in this failure, as a negative space where, like Foy’s liquid blue-green ovals, there is “nothing” to perceive. Abstraction turns back on itself to reveal the limitations inherent to its own project.
If abstraction has been characterized as an act that seeks to introduce a new object, whether by emphasizing the painting surface, or by attempting a reconfiguration of the frame and the constraints of inside and outside, Foy turns abstraction against abstraction precisely here. Foy’s emphasis on the corporeality of the surface does not give us a new object as such, but neither then does the distinction inside/outside remain intact. Instead, inside becomes outside and outside, inside. Foy does not wish to introduce a new object, a painterly thing, or to attempt a new configuration of space, introducing a new place in space, in which the basic terms of inside/outside would be left intact. On the contrary, the surface is a “space” that bears traces of creation and destruction, and it is the interstice between these “acts,” the silent murmur the speaks of birth/death, that Foy explores.
If one had to situate Foy’s work, it would not be at the end of modernity, at that moment where the formal possibilities of painting have been exhausted, nor then would one want to deduce that the only thing left to a painter like Foy is to engage in a self-referential dialogue with an art history that can no longer produce anything new but only repeat itself endlessly.
The truth for Foy is always elsewhere, on the move, in the next painting, the next arrangement, and each work is only a provisional crystallization, an accidental configuration, a beginning, and an end. The space of the unseen takes priority; abstraction, for Foy, is not a means to producing “objects.” The integrity of a work of art, its autonomy, makes it a dead object, and this does not interest Foy. Against an abstraction that would emphasize the thingly nature of the art object, against reifying a work of art, “a new thing,” Foy embraces the incomplete, the moment repeated, lived again, another arrangement, the not-yet, the once-more, again, again, yes, yes.