David v. Goliath. Ahab v. Moby. Twins v. Yankees (sigh). Compared to the faceted, sprawling Wattis show, Nathan Redwood's Pez-head paintings seem small, but not minor, and out-muscled, but not out-hustled. They breeze with simplicity, and in Redwood's world of portraits, simplicity is a neck. It's the feeble part that demarcates the blocky bust and exploding Scanners head. (I won't link to this in deference to the squeamish, but seriously google it!) Redwood's tridactyl approach to crafting portraits (head-neck-bust) proves the perfect foil for a playful painter's toil. He almost completely evades his usual oeuvre of objects and physics and clear mechanics but retains his mode of applying acrylic on white-primed canvas.
The unsung hero here, in fact, is the white underpainting. The luminosity of each dashing stroke of transparent color punches immediately, flaunting an inner glow like a Claude Lorrain landscape. A round brush with a hard stroke serves the proper effect—and he is an effect painter—with the brush largely wiping the paint from the middle to pool at the stroke's outside edges. What does this mean? Each brush stroke, which usually covers the length of the canvas after looping around maniacally, becomes its own object.
Given the abstruse read of Redwood's heads, the strokes may be the first thing the eye catches. Soon, however, a landscape rolls out from the shoulders; a looping Dali-esque ribbon forms eyes, nose, mouth. A starburst becomes a head, a searing white interior of creative inspiration--or demonic, Ahab-like rage. A sliding block puzzle, an irregular Jenga, finally becomes a blockhead (props to Charlie Brown).
Gawking at the glow, you can easily overlook how much work garnishes the top layer. Scratching, buffing, or sanding away layers creates something altogether graphic and roughly aged--with an embrace of unpredictability at the reveal. (Reminds me of a recent Pierre Huyghe piece, in fact.) The large canvas SBud is an ample example. Cream on dark blue, it's essentially a big-eared, mondo-lipped profile caricature. Knots of paint twist into concentrated mass that pops like a low relief when viewed close but generates a pictorial illusio n from far away.
It's strange how confidently I can pick out the "good" and "bad" pieces in this show. To the artist's credit, this is due to a chips-in attitude of experimentation with execution. Where most artists want to brew up a formula and watch it coat the walls, Redwood dives all around within his chosen constraints. Hence, you get Pressure (reminiscent of this) hung next to Kind Of. The intense lobes hovering off the brown-clad figure in Left Right are not Mickey Mouse ears; they're brain hemispheres, informing the artist's fascination with the mind.
Dee Vine, with its gilt background, reinforces this with its color sophistication and rainbow cord bundle branching into crazy straws. The bifurcated brain reappears in The Green One (which I didn't like). Two wands (one angled, one curved) travel with a wanderer in a rare half-length portrait. The simple surface treatment and decision to add horizon break the dense one-dimensional spell carried throughout the show.
I can't forget to mention the wall of acrylic-on-paper pieces in the gallery's rear--don't miss 'em! Trust me, you aren't trespassing back there. If I could take home one piece today, it would be Untitled #1, a confusin g and fascinating crossing of stripes under an opaque wrap--on a neck, of course. Like the others, the symbolic head weight is heavier than the ass that carries it. Of course, a head can be a burden, and an ass a beast of. At least it's not a neck.
- Andy Ritchie
All images courtesy of the artist and Electric Works: Nathan Redwood, Left Right. Arcylic on canvas. 36"x32". 2009. Untitled #1, 2009, Acrylic on paper, 38.75 x 30.75"