It’s hard to think of these paintings coming from anywhere but Chicago. They’re not figurative, but if the bizarre characters depicted by Karl Wirsum or Ed Paschke were wallpapering the den, these are the kinds of abstract patterns they might seek. As if to boyishly say “here’s a finger in your eye,” the designs start with the aggressive colors and annoying energy found on the walls of a fast-food restaurant. Then, they’re ramped up to that jarring intensity often seen in collectible outsider art. Picture frames are irrelevant because there’s no architectural space in which they can visually belong. Like infections or strip malls, they seem to have started growing on their own, suggesting no human activity higher than the microbial—that frantic, infinitely complex level where everything fights for existence, regardless of whatever dreams and ideals humans may pursue.
The intensity of mark making recalls Islamic calligraphy, but absent interior tension, the marks resemble doodles rather than invocations to worship. But the variety of marks within a density of pattern is astonishing. Some are as thin as lines drawn by color pencils. Others are as thick as paint squeezed straight from the tube. Each one feels perfectly executed. All the corners talk to each other. The longer you look, the more relationships you find, and the artist is always experimenting with shapes, luminosity, color combinations and even representations, though possibly ironic. Two clichéd women are suggested: one is young and alluring (“Happy Mistress,” 2009); the other old and formidable (“Mother’s nature,” 2014).
Most of these pieces were painted last year, but a few earlier works give some idea of evolution. His forms have begun to fray at the edges, and if the electrical energy continues to build, it’s hard to imagine paint staying on the canvas.
My favorite image was “Night song,” 2010, a sensual maelstrom of sharply defined elements—something like the orgasmic finale of a fireworks show. So endlessly absorbing that after leaving the gallery, the world outside also felt like a disorienting, dizzying assault of colors and edges. (Chris Miller)
Through March 20 at the Koehnline Museum, 1600 East Golf Road, Des Plaines