Hainley, Bruce, Artforum International
Critic Bob Nickas wrote recently that John Tremblay's Open Plan Living, a spectacular, almost forty-foot-long painting, "seemed like a statement, and it's rare to find that these days. Most artists make their statements in interviews, or when they go blab on panels or in art schools, or when they write their press releases. So it feels like an event to walk into a gallery and see that a statement is actually being made by the work itself." Open Plan Living is indeed a defiant statement, primarily about--well, that's the crux--painting and utopian communication.
Tremblay's newest works, on view recently in Los Angeles, resulted from the free flow of ideas that can occur after the struggle of making a grand thing. In Brooklyn Year Zero, 2000, the artist sets up many of the issues emblematic of his project. On a dove-gray field are situated two forms: a spiraling corridor of ovals in eye-popping red on the left, and, on the right, a rainbow in dulcet gradations of gray, from grime to white to lead. You could begin to see a narrative about the new millennium, about, say, moving away from confining older structures (the cell of the maze/corridor) toward hopefulness. Yet what the artist refers to as a "ghetto rainbow" is cliched and dingy. In any case, such a narrative would reveal no more than would figuring out what gray or dizzying red might mean. The question is not what Tremblay's paintings are "about," but whether paintings are ever "about" anything. His challenge is to avoid the obvious come-on of metaphorical narrative or art-historical reference while being secu rely in control of the knowledge of precedent-- i.e., to have some serious fun.
Questions of interpretation and meaning present themselves throughout Tremblay's work. Are abstraction and nonrepresentation always distinguishable from each other? And are these always distinguishable from representation? …