I cannot help but think of the more commercial, often palette knife-painted, construction-based abstractions of the 1960s as I first walk into the exhibition at CRG Gallery. That is not good.
As references go, you want to try to avoid the kitschier techniques, the ones that rely too heavily on dazzling their audience solely with technique, unless you plan to make a commentary about esthetics, or, you are intentionally trying to tweak your audience to get their attention, with the intention of bringing into play some such thing as a powerful social or political message.
I do understand that in Steven Bindernagel’s case there is a long process of mark making that is claimed to be informed by both architectural and digital reference that does contemporize the context of the work. I also understand that there is much sensitivity here as the artist is trying to respond to his daily changing moods and decision-making processes. However, I fail to see, for the most part, anything new or substantive here making this work, as an overall exhibition, hard to accept as important enough to merit a one-person exhibition.
Steven Bindernagel, Leave the World Unseen, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 72 X 60 inches; Courtesy of the Artist and CRG Gallery.
With that said, there are a few relatively successful paintings here where the artist creates enough palpable content to push this viewer past the shortcomings. The five by six-foot oil on canvas Secret Charts (2011) adds much needed depth of space, and more importantly, emotion to this artist’s repertoire. Secret Charts holds our attention not just with the intricacy of technique, but with conflicting darks and bright colors, the suggestive natural forms that are pitted against order and structure, combined with a fluid composition that breathes like anxious lungs. Leave the World Unseen (2013), a same sized painting has similar depth, only here, nature seems to be overcoming any man-made intrusions. There is also quite a bit of light and spirit in this work that reminds me of the work of Susan Breen who too can elevate the thinking of her audience past the everyday.
Bindernagel’s most successful work is Cipher (red) (2012). Here, we see the mysteries of the universe being choreographed by some sort of sun-sized circular, jellyfish-shaped organism that must remain connected to an unseen power or information source. Cipher creates wonder first, and then emotion, then you come to the technique that holds one in place for some time.
Steven Bindernagel, Architects of Air, 2012, Mixed media on paper, 60 1/4 X 40 3/4 inches (paper) / 64 X 45 inches (framed); Courtesy of the Artist and CRG Gallery.
If you want to get a better handle on the process of the artist you only need look at the three black and white works on paper: Heliograph (2012), Architects of Air (2012) and Midnight in Brooklyn (2012). They are abbreviated versions of paintings as they span a much shorter time in production as compared to the color-laden works on canvas. By shortening the active life of the work, the slicing and dicing, the scumbling and scraping, and the decision-making becomes much easier to follow so you can go back into the color work with a sense of the artist’s process.
There is a lot more Bindernagel can do with his talent and ability. I would like to see what he can achieve if he can get past his fascination with his ability to work his materials, and look more toward creating work with deeper, and more memorable content.
(Image on top: Steven Bindernagel, Secret Charts , 2011 , Acrylic on canvas , 72 X 60 inches; Courtesy of the Artist and CRG Gallery.)