Magazine article Artforum International

Richard Aldrich

Magazine article Artforum International

Richard Aldrich

Article excerpt

RICHARD ALDRICH hates being called ironic or a slacker. The fact that critics have lately called him both, without any air of opprobrium, may say more about the critical winds encircling recent abstract painting than it does about his disparate and disarming canvases--most "nonobjective" in the old-fashioned sense, some scrawled with graffiti or collaged with media scavengings, a few overtly depictive. Such modest multifariousness invites us to imagine that Aldrich is involved in a kind of authorial gamesmanship, and it is comforting to read jokey gestures like gluing almonds to a painting or turning a canvas into a face as cunning ploys. He can't really be serious or, worse, trying too hard. Irony and insouciance are easy critical hedges against charges of unfashionable earnestness or latter-day formal fiddling. Such poses make paintings (or their beholders) seem canny or "relevant," as can the computer, the silk screen, and the photograph, to say nothing of bold-faced ineptitude. Yet by now a winking abstraction can be just as academic as a sincere one can, and Aldrich insistently resists the former path. He recasts jaded feints as quizzical discoveries, finding in shopworn signs of ending a place from which to begin.

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Aldrich arrived at his ambling painterly practice in an appropriately roundabout way. After studying art and philosophy in college, he moved to New York in 1999 and spent several years making text-based drawings and penning Calvinoesque poems and essays, which he sometimes published pseudony-mously in ads in Zing magazine. Experiments in electronic music soon followed with Hurray, a quartet that included Peter Mandradjieff, Zak Prekop, and Josh Brand. Although the group comprised fellow artists and even exhibited works collectively in a couple of galleries, Aldrich insists it was not an art-band but a band-band, which released a few records and gained cred on the music scene. The alternately jarring and meandering sounds of mishandled guitars and amplifiers suggest a Cagean bent that would inform, though grow more disciplined in, the paintings Aldrich began making around 2003 in a dirt-floored basement studio. They were small by necessity, since he could just barely stand up in the space, and he had to paint them flat on a table or resting on his lap--a not insignificant detail given their intimate tabular surfaces and the sense they convey of having been physically handled.

Aldrich often works on gessoed panels with a mixture of oil paint, mineral spirits, and wax, which he lays on with a brush or palette knife. The combination of the resistant ground and viscid alloy registers his short hesitant strokes with tender congealed precision. His larger and breezier canvases have been compared to Philip Guston's transitional pictures from the mid-1960s (and also sometimes evoke Per Kirkeby or Joan Mitchell), but Aldrich's touch is generally closer to Guston's nervous accretions of the previous decade. There is more curiosity than certainty in Aldrich's hand, which manages to coax a kind of quivering elegance from otherwise irresolute daubings. Almost paradoxically, however, his tentative marks unspool within broader campaigns of greater risk and gusto. He digs and scratches into his surfaces, builds them up and wipes them down. Untitled (Night Time Sky), 2007-2008, for example, is a perplexing palimpsest of starchy strata, gaps, and occlusions. In many paintings, color reverberates not through the layering of transparent veils but via delicate scumbling or tremulous fissures between abutting and overlapping opaque passages, a quality strangely reminiscent of the Nabis, and of Vuillard in particular. The muted tertiary palette calls to mind color names from a mail-order fashion catalogue--charcoal and sage, bisque and butter--but the mix feels vaguely out of season. Aldrich's compositional sensibility draws him toward the margins or center of a painting--but rarely both at once--often leaving broad expanses of naked canvas in between. …

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