The Painting Center is pleased to announce an exhibition of paintings by Philip Ayers. "These large, restless paintings make of their “anxiety” something larger than the merely personal, although you might be hard pressed to say what that is. They speak to some strange collision of the historical and natural worlds, they seem to witness time as a process that involves both growth and decay; they are full of a sense of both historical ruin and continual re-building or repair. In their combination of constructedness and fragmentation they might recall the allegorical architecture of some Renaissance fresco or print, but they are in the end what Angus Fletcher has called “allegories without allegory,” images in which you may sense hidden stories and secrets, but without any single authority or master-text to decode them, to give you their grammar of meaning.
A struggle between the simple and the complex, the part and whole, runs throughout the work. A recent painting—one of an ongoing series—shows this starkly. You are in the corner of an abandoned field. Low down is a tangle of brown, red, and yellow undergrowth, out of which rises a crowd of dead sunflowers, their massive heads, beautifully twisted stalks, and curled leaves held up by a thin array of vertical stakes, crossed here and there by tangles of string, with eerie tangles of color silhouetted against flat fields of low green and brown, and high up against a sky of yellow and ochre and pink, touched with mauve at the edges—Ayers’s favorite sky. It is an intricate weaving of lines and colors. Frail as the stand of dead flowers is, the painter lends it the authority of a ruined temple you might see in an Italian Renaissance landscape.
The painting also shows Ayers’s immense skill as colorist, as a lover of the sheer alchemy of oil paint and brush. This canvas, like so many of the others, is full of the multiple animations the world, unsettling and alien as those animations are.
Looking long at these paintings has a curious effect when you walk again into the ordinary day. Commonplace things take a different face. You see a changed invitation in some passage of sunlit windows, in the facade of a brownstone glimpsed through trees, in the view of a car parked next to a dumpster full of construction debris, or in a glimpsed wedge of sky intruding between buildings. You see these things differently and you remember them differently."
*Notes excerpted from catalogue essay by Kenneth Gross