Saturday, November 18, 2017

External Reflections

Patrick Berran, Untitled (PB 641), 2017, Acrylic and toner on panel

Exhibition review

Patrick Berran
Chapter NY
249 East Houston Street
September 10 – October 22, 2017

Patrick Berran’s latest paintings at Chapter NY have the electricity of a classic Jackson Pollock: what at first appears to be a complicated visual explosion is in fact a carefully regulated site for contemplation. But instead of being gestural, Berran’s paintings are the product of a mechanical process that seems to remove the hand of the artist.

The artist’s sketchbook drawings, which may be non-representational or representationally inspired, are enlarged on a photocopier to the point of breaking up into irregular spots, like a television static pattern or animal-print fabric. Berran then uses a solvent to transfer these patterned fields onto canvas, interlacing them with sharply defined or soft-edged fields of color. Layers are piled up and sandwiched to create semi-permeable screens. Berran’s paintings are full of skittery, off-register marks reminiscent of Rauschenberg’s Automobile Tire Print (1953). Warm peachy pinks and hot oranges and reds glow from beneath the surface like blood under the skin.

Patrick Berran, Untitled (PB 645), 2017, Acrylic and toner on panel

Patrick Berran, Untitled (PB 643), 2017, Acrylic and toner on panel

The exhibition includes six solidly medium-sized paintings and one small canvas; all are Untitled, 2017, and all are acrylic and toner on panel. Each is satisfyingly layered with areas of color and pattern overlapping in bar-like rectangles. Long, thin forms at the sides or running through the middle echo the edges of the canvas and the stretchers that support it. Streaked or cloudy atmospheric passages, as well as frequently asymmetrical compositions, create tension between the hand-made and the mechanical. Subtle shifts in color appear as you get closer, with gradients spanning multiple hues. While in Berran’s previous work the forms were often laid on top of a white background, here the figure/ground relation is more ambiguous. Dark or saturated colors may serve as ground, like the black edges in Untitled (PB 643) or the reds and yellows of Untitled (PB 645). Yet all the paintings have white showing through, reasserting the originary canvas. The complexity and generosity of the compositions has a Turneresque sublimity, but the consistently reasserted rectilinear framework reassures us that things won’t get out of control. In contrast to the calm clarity of Diebenkorn’s rectangle-based Ocean Park series, which is equally abstract and contemplative, Berran's work is infused with a punk rock style informed by surfer and skateboard culture. The affect is similar to the heavily postered, torn walls of Jacques Villegl√©. Berran’s contrasting hot and cold colors (icy blue reappears), along with his liberal use of black, give the paintings a contemporary, digital severity.

Patrick Berran, Untitled (PB 646), 2017, Acrylic and toner on panel

In one work, Untitled (PB 646), an insistent smaller frame in the middle of the image suggests a mirror. But instead of seeing ourselves or the world reflected in it, we see a patterned surface of warm gray and black that closes off vision, and redirects our view outward to the margins of the canvas. Berran’s paintings are viewfinders on an internal world, screens on which raw visual experience is distilled and transformed into rich, layered notations. They invite us to look inward as we are looking out, and to recognize the buzzing complexity within.

--Jeff Frederick