Is it okay to paint exactly like another artist? Given the art-world’s dubious history of visual homage, its penchant for appropriation, and its love of brazen theft, the answer is almost always a resounding yes. But that didn’t stop the question from plaguing my experience of Andrew Graham’s new show of stripe paintings at Roy Boyd Gallery. “New Paintings” is a collection of works that, while seductive in their own right, frankly look a lot like the myriad of stripe paintings that litter art’s recent past.
Beginning with Barnett Newman’s infamous “zips” of the 1950s, stripes have become a sort of fallback position for vast swaths of contemporary painters keen on just “making work.” And it’s no mystery why: given their limited formal scope it’s practically impossible to make a bad or an ugly stripe painting, and their presence is just malleable enough to allow a viewer to project almost any content—emotional, conceptual, or otherwise—into it.
As vertical stripe paintings go, Graham’s are slick, sexy and well crafted. The Illinois native has an astute sense of color that results in a gallery brimming with soothing chromatic harmonies interrupted by the occasional boldly colored passage. The deep green and blue-violet “Arpeggionic Illumination” in particular possesses a captivating interplay between high gloss and iridescent matte stripes that rewards close viewing.
But the charming qualities that undoubtedly make these works highly sellable are also their Achilles’ heel. In short order, the alluring, tastefully composed surfaces that extend throughout the show assume a saccharine, vapid flavor; what works brilliantly in the first two or three paintings feels routine and uninspired by the ninth. This is, of course, the curse of the stripe painting. While it may be impossible to make a stripe painting look truly bad, it’s equally impossible to make one look truly great. (Alan Pocaro)
Through February 26 at Roy Boyd Gallery, 739 North Wells
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