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Stephen Beal
George Lawson Gallery, San Francisco
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng

Stephen Beal, "untitled 32 (from The Linens) (cat. no. STB101)," 2013, acrylic gouache, graphite on medium weight Belgian linen, 18 x 21".

Continuing through December 21, 2013

Sister Wendy Beckett’s belief that you can appreciate most art from postcard reproductions has a certain iconoclastic charm (especially now that jpegs have pretty much supplanted them), and even an occasional validity. But the handmade object retains its aura, no matter how often or mechanically reproduced (Will no one rid us of this troublesome  Benjaminism?). The modestly-sized grid paintings of Stephen Beal, with their multiple. spatial layers, make a compelling case for — to lapse into philosophical lingo — das Ding an sich, the thing itself. These are painter’s paintings that, for all their jazzy syncopation and insouciant charm, encourage a kind of mazy, amazed meditation.

The untitled (but numbered) ten new paintings comprising the show are done with graphite and acrylic gouache on finely woven Belgian portrait linen. They resemble quilts, grids, chessboards and parquet floors with their all-over compositions, the exposed linen in certain areas suggesting the early stripe paintings of Frank Stella. But if resolute flatness was a doctrinal point of Stella’s modernist faith, Beal superimposes two and three frames of reference: orthogonal grid, diagonal grid (in isomorphic projection), and zigzags, all in perfect alignment. The viewer is forced to flip ‘subject’ and ‘ground’ much like the Op Art paintings of Victor Vasarely or the wire-frame optical illusions of Josef Albers’ "Despite Straight Lines" series. Add to this controlled multivalence a restrained but lighthearted palette, nicely attuned to the linen substrate, idiosyncratic touches that factor in grace notes that are discernible only in real space, where people and objects collide and spark.

George Lawson Gallery

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