“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” William Blake wrote, an adage every American knows. But do we really need yet another invitation to overindulge? Isn’t the hourly barrage of consumer advertising and political rhetoric more than enough?
That’s the question I couldn’t avoid while browsing through these twenty confections of thick, colorful paint. They certainly deserve the descriptor “succulent,” the title given to this show. They also deserve the word “luscious,” the title that accompanied the artist’s breakout exhibition in 2007. Each small piece, measuring twelve inches or less on a side, is a maelstrom of strong color in thick pigment. Sometimes it seems straight out of the tube—other times it appears worn, gritty or streaked with other colors. There’s a guttural, aggressive eruption about each brush stroke, as if the artist grunted or shouted every time a paint-heavy brush was pulled across the surface.
There’s plenty of life here, but not especially human, or even biological. It’s more like the dynamic forces of the planet: hurricanes, fireballs, mudslides, volcanoes, tsunamis or earthquakes. That’s a lot of commotion to pack into one small rectangle. Yet when observed closely, every errant glob of paint seems perfectly placed and is not so errant after all. When the artist works larger, the succulence is diminished. So as his largest piece, “Jardin d’Amour,” stretches up to forty-eight inches high, it feels less like a pleasure garden and more like a toxic waste dump.
Within the confines of its limited space, every small piece is delightful. The artist seems determined to never repeat himself, at least within the restrictions that he has chosen. Overall, the show is a demonstration of compositional ingenuity. The recurring problem is with the outer edges of the panel. If they were straight and smooth, they would uncomfortably confine the turbulence within. So the artist has let heavy globs of paint overrun them. But now that the edges are ragged and uneven, the canvas makes an unruly shape against the smooth, white gallery wall behind it. The results are more dismaying than exciting. It might serve as a good, if unintended, metaphor for the ultimate consequences of reckless overindulgence.
The energy in this work is rough, tough and youthful. It’s all about enthusiasm and future possibilities. It suggests that which is as infinite, timeless, inexorable and amoral as the physical universe. It makes me long for a more humane, more refined, more mediated, more social experience. But it certainly is eye-catching. (Chris Miller)
“Darrell Roberts: Succulent” is on view at McCormick Gallery, 835 West Washington, through October 26.