Patrick Wilson at Los Angeles Projects Showing at The Armory Show
Andre Breton pitied a life of presence, nothing but presence. Well, as Patrick Wilson shows, other-ness has its drawbacks too. He makes these three pieces, each with three panels, from alkyd, acrylic, oil and pigment on canvas. He titles each with a specific time of day (4:00 P.M., 6:00 P.M., 12:00 P.M.). Each piece is a triptych, vertical; the bottom panel shows objects the artist has experienced and wishes to translate to us, for our experience. For example, the bottom panel of 4:00 A.M. shows, at the bottom, near the right edge, a mobile trailer set at a 45 degree angle to the picture plane. Just to its left is a small white box. And that’s it. The piece is lit as it’s buffeted by a strobe light or something that definitely isn’t natural light at four in the morning. Perhaps the penumbra of dawn. The upper two panels become darker in tone, though all three evince a brown hue; a Starbucks gradation from cappuccino to mocha. The upper two panels don’t show us any objects, any things the artist has seen and wished to share. Nothing concrete at least. Why? Why not just exhibit the piece with that bottom panel? That in itself would be a compelling study of a mobile trailer embedded in the picture plane, caught in the ambergris of the pictorial space; and that little white dot could represent a place marker in space; a reminder that the piece began on the surface of the plane, sank in, rotated a bit, and is frozen there, relic-like, strobe-lit, cubist-fashion.
But no, the artist chose to extend the picture by two more panels, upward. He polishes, sort of, the surface of all three panels: they glisten, they refracts light. Within the bottom panel this creates a nice narrative on how objects perceived get translated and refracted around the picture plane. But what about those other two panels? They are empty meditations on a void; they radiate low level light from within the canvas. I think the artist has put them there, partially, for a formal effect, as a foil to the surface play of the bottom panel. The depth of the top two panels is mirrored back onto the viewer with that polished surface. It thwarts readings of this as something monumental (go on, say it…rothko-esque) with that glare; he hints at depth in the murky and indeterminate space, but doesn’t let us conjugate it.
Another reason that the artist has added those two panels is for more of a philosophical reason. Think about it. The whole piece, all three panels, does not offer a clear reading. It waxes rhapsodic and ambiguous. Too much spatial manipulations, too much either/or ambiguity: a clearly-articulated object within the pictorial plane, an elementary white (neutral) square pasted on the surface: is it about surface, is it about depth?; a textured recession into space, like suddenly finding oneself inside a fog bank without being a aware of it and, at the same time, those glossy surfaces stymie any effort to project oneself into the space itself (almost as if the artist doesn’t want us to explore things monumental without first examining ourselves in the reflection of the piece itself). That raises the question: is the piece what we see through a window or a memory, the sheet of glass that stages the window. Or is it a mirror?
It’s a mirror. With this quixotic nervousness the viewer cannot get a clear grasp on the piece. It draws the viewer in as a pretty and sensuous object – think of glazed donuts, misty moons, and streetlights at foggy midnights – but doesn’t let them get too relaxed, settled. Like a dangling modifier, it thwarts expectations. For all their preciousness, the three pieces are really Chinese finger puzzles: you can easily put both your thumbs in but you cannot so easily pull them out. This is no easy read. It makes the viewer take an inventory on themselves: on things that rest on the surface "my God, is my hair that gray?), things that recede in the depths (mom said be a doctor); on the work as an object, as a mirror, as a window and as an experience. All the works’ flip-flopping about belies its cool, minimal demeanor: it lulls us in and spits us out, dispirited but a smidge more full of self-knowledge.
These three pieces describe false self-composure and its cousin, studied anxiety, exquisitely wrought studied anxiety. Those bottom panels with their things – anchor us; give us something comfortable, recognizable, to sink our teeth into. We think we have a toe hold on the piece. A frame reference. Wrong. All that space, two whole panels of it, remain. We are at a loss as to what to do. We think "ah, splendid, grand vistas" but the piece is a mirror; there we are. Yuck. Space without things, dreams without plans, vistas without horizons: no central organization, just murmuring space. Us and our thoughts. These three works suggest that we cannot sit alone with our thoughts in the quiet lovely atmosphere the artist provides us without going stir-crazy. Why? Because we cannot bear extended periods of epiphany! We eschew reflection. The work references Blaise Pascal’s diagnosis of man’s malaise: he cannot sit still, alone, in an empty room for an extended period of time. The artist doesn’t chastise us for this, our predicament. Rather, he makes it a pretty mystery, one of those aw-shucks things, something we cannot figure out yet, by the same token, cannot help but get drawn lemming-like into it the first place. And, in so doing, roil with eschatological ants-in-the-pants for getting fooled again.