Fabstraction What's cooking in the New York arts world right now? In a word, abstraction so good-looking it should be called fabstraction. Far from the impeccably illuminated rationality of modernist progenitors like Mondrian and Kandinsky; beyond the gravitas and anguish that once made 50s abstract expressionism all the existential rage; way past the Baudrillardian, capital-driven sententiousness of Peter Halley's Neo Geo, abstraction is back and vibrantly in evidence today in electric, Kool Aid-hued spades.
These and other sources too numerous to list feed an avalanche of M&M shapes and hues that this month invade galleries all around the city. Eminently likable, knowingly unironic and jaunty as a Labrador hound romping in a field, fabstraction comfortably negotiates space between earlier art and the welter of images constantly battering normal folks. Drawing inspiration from South Park episodes and Renaissance light effects, this present crop of abstract artists is conformed by both young and old, the wet-around-the-ears and the trench-hardened. Rather than a full-fledged style, the new brand of abstract imagemaking speaks to a rapidly solidifying trend. Vibrant and full of dazzling effects, fabstraction is the perfect abstract house style for our economically booming, increasingly self-satisfied but vaguely mistrustful, guiltily gilded age.
Take the work of veteran artist James Siena (recently at Gorney Bravin & Lee), a painter of modestly scaled geometric doodles in enamel. An elder statesman among the current group of abstract artists, Siena lets roam his compulsive freehand line with a personalized obsessiveness characteristic of much abstract artmaking today. Intensely patterned and shiny as a refrigerator door, his aluminum-backed rectangles work hard to resemble the work of one of Bedlam's most gifted inmates. Driven in a way that belongs to no particular school at all, Siena's quirky pictures make material a nearly forgotten, all important, age-old adage: "the painter will produce pictures of little merit if he takes the work of others as his standard." Dixit Leonardo.
Dan Walsh (recently at Paula Cooper), another original soul, also personalizes the modernist canon of pure form. Cubes, grids and parallel lines, once the building blocks of hyperlogical formalism, are in Walsh's hands the carefully apportioned means for customizing his own syntax of boxlike squares and jellybean colors. Drawn in a deliberately sagging line that recalls lazy backyard hammocks, Walsh measures out his stacked squares with no ruler and loads of intuition. However closely calibrated, no mark or tone appears inevitable in Walsh's paintings; their balance, regardless of fine-tuning, is deliberately set to pastel-colored ease: a sort of abstracted version of an estival picnic, complete with checkered blankets and strings of colored beads.
Another highly pleasurable viewing experience is the shamelessly happy-go-lucky work of Warren Isensee (recently at Tricia Collins). Painting from an obvious sense of brimming contentment, Isensee arrays two distinct but very friendly forms against each other. One, a repeating, lozenge-shaped block, he paints in vegetable pastels soft as eiderdown; the second, a bullet-shaped outline, radiates outwardly from different points on the canvas. The results?bright and rhythmic as jazz solos on timbales?are punchy, magical, confidently cheery, nearly treacly. "[I wanted] to bring something positive into the world rather than something ironic," Isensee declares in gallery literature for the show. "For years I couldn't say the word 'beauty' and now I find myself swinging that way."
Yet another painter well disposed to eye-pleasing, sharply colored swinging in abstract shapes is Carl Fudge (at Ronald Feldman). Fudge, who in past work traced scrawling lines as tangled as those inside a New York City telephone box, takes his latest series toward shapelier, more cartoony, complex abstraction. These paintings, masked-off but deliberately left patchy and inexact in places, are pepped up by the artist's pop-y artificial colors and also by the silhouetted organs and orifices produced by the work's repetitive, Rorschach-blot-like patterning. That the original source for these patterns are a pair of 18th-century Japanese woodblock prints, appears, in the final analysis, of incidental importance?so easy is it for traditional content like Fudge's to be clobbered by entrancing mandala-shapes and brash, lovely pinks, mauves, canary-yellows and tea-greens.
Ingrid Calame also has her paintings' not at all insignificant content nearly swamped by the sheer attractiveness of her work. While both her aluminum-mounted work at Deitch Projects and her large hanging mylar piece at the Whitney Biennial trace stains taken from city streets and sidewalks?invoking notions of street cred and urban abasement?each of her pieces literally glows with flat, shiny color. Entropically inspired and titled onomatopoetically to suggest loud splats and spillages ("twlsptptpptptsl?" is the title of the Deitch show), Calame's gritty stainings are resolved into a camouflage forest of discontinuous, intensely groovy color combinations. As a result, Calame's art rises so far above her mundane sources as to make them entirely an afterthought.
Out in Williamsburg, young Steven Charles updates and explodes the cramped, obsessive line effect in palm-sized and large-scale formats. Dripping and pouring enamel paint onto canvas, he repeats his pouring patterns, filling in color with color, leaving edges of enamel drips showing, not stopping until the entire canvas is filled to bursting with colophon-like stoppages and continuous, zigzagging vertical and horizontal lines. Working wet on wet the way a chef does when making saucy swirls, Charles' all-over, serendipitous designs exploit every available square inch of canvas space. Exploding with repetitive macro to micro inversions and conversions, the paintings tend to resemble spaced-out city maps. A WorldWideWeb-inspired version of Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie, Charles' paintings are handmade objects for the Information Age; implausibly intricate tracings jazzed to the hilt with artificial, brilliant colors.
Wholly but not exclusively in the realm of high-tech is Jeremy Blake's gorgeous, intensely abstract, digital DVD projection Angel Dust (recently at Feigen Contemporary and continuing at P.S. 1's "Greater New York" exhibition). Blurring the distinctions between advanced technology and traditional media like few others before him, Blake makes animated "paintings" using a fancy computer and a basic painting program. Meticulously crafting each frame, he lays layer upon layer of translucent color upon a shifting grid, using techniques inherited from traditional painting and lighting effects taken from photography and film. The results are dazzling and speak both to the history of abstraction and to its potential future. New Mexico earth tones move seamlessly into loamy browns and emerald greens, pinks and mauves into soft baby blues and gray navy tones. Like a vitraux on a cloudy, sun-shifting day, each color on Blake's projected scrim is modulated to a dark or light extreme, moving beyond itself finally as if guided by a ghostly light behind the projection wall. Offering in the medium of projected light an opticality as lush as most things done in the inert medium of painting, Blake sets out to chart new territory in the foursquare format of color abstraction. Quite possibly the Cortes of 21st-century abstract art, Blake points forward to an undiscovered, unexplored wilderness. Only time will tell whether what he found is an El Dorado or a brimming Atlantic.
"Ingrid Calame: twlsptptpptptsl...," through April 27 at Deitch Projects, 76 Grand St. (betw. Wooster & Green Sts.), 343-7300.
"Steven Charles: Nowhere Fast," through May 8 at Pierogi 2000, 177 N. 9th St. (betw. Bedford & Drigg Sts.), Brooklyn, 718-599-2144.
Carl Fudge, through May 6 at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 31 Mercer St. (betw.Grand & Canal Sts.), 226-3232.
"Greater New York," through May 16 at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, 22-25 Jackson Ave. (46th Ave.), L.I.C., 718-784-2084.