Monique Prieto: Cheim & Read

Article excerpt

WALKING BOTH FORWARDS AND BACKWARDS. This phrase, which appears in one of eight new canvases exhibited recently by Los Angeles-based painter Monique Prieto at Cheim & Read, neatly encapsulates the artist's current project. A longtime inhabitant of the interzone between allusion and depiction, Prieto has lately begun using words in an attempt to further her experimental dialogue between past, present, and future modes of address. In making the work for which she has become known over the past ten years, Prieto has often used a computer as a preparatory tool to generate idiosyncratic compositions that oscillate between latter-day biomorphism and a more self-contained, purely abstract vision. Now, in order to keep things fresh, she has turned to seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) for inspiration.

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WITH THE GREATEST LIBERTY AND LOVE. Pepys's words, rendered by Prieto in cartoonlike letters of wildly varying size that tumble across roiling fields of color, reflect both the turbulent richness of the famous Londoner's life and times and the enduring, universal nature of his personal and political insights. Prieto gives each letter a ramshackle solidity, as if it were hastily assembled from homemade Lego bricks. The effect--a self-aware but uncynical naivete reminiscent of late Philip Guston--is endearingly rough-and-ready, but this is not to say that the paintings aren't skillfully assembled. On the contrary, Prieto's facility for animating flat surfaces with opaque but effervescent shades of magenta and lilac, buttercup and rose, sky blue and sea green, is immediately striking and an uncomplicated pleasure. In liberty and love (all works 2005), for example, letters rendered in black outline surrounding unprimed canvas are edged by irregular halos of orange, yellow, purple, and gray as they hover over a flat pink ground.

THE TIDE BEING AGAINST US WHEN WE WERE ALMOST THROUGH. As Artforum reviewer Christopher Miles points out in an essay accompanying the show, Pepys's life was hardly a simple one. …