Scale is critical to Justin Bower's paintings. With roots in the painterly Abstract Expressionism of Willem de Kooning; superficial resemblance to the monstrous photographic self-portraits of Douglas Gordon, his head wrapped in cellophane tape; plus, traces of the electronic color of Ed Paschke's brand of Chicago Imagism and more, Bower's large canvases of isolated heads claim diverse parentage.
Eight large and four smaller paintings at Ace show that, in this instance, bigger really is better. The smaller works get stuck in the instant-impact of one-dimensional graphic design. But at 8 by 7 feet, the big paintings draw you close into their orbit, where the sensuous speed of Bower's brush possesses the lacerating quality of a surgeon's scalpel.
By turns pulling apart and coalescing, they turn into whiplash-worlds of aggravation, fury and fragmentation. These heads hurt.
Like Cubism, which is this work's ultimate ancestor, the paintings haven't quite resolved the negative space between the depicted head and the physical canvas-edge. Bower tries several remedies, including somewhat awkward scaffolding and linear armatures that connect one to the other. The most convincing comes in works such as "Feedback Loop I," in which the head's acid-green contour trails into view, suggesting the tenuous fragility of attachment and disconnection.
-- Christopher Knight