Mind-melting abstraction from the Pacific Northwest
Art’s a tricky one for me. I love looking at awesome work but I find the art world tends to over-intellectualize things in a way that makes my eyes glaze over. I have no idea what they’re on about half the time. Flipping through Artforum, I may as well be reading a textbook on astrophysics. Or worse, a Pitchfork record review.
I think all that really matters when it comes to art is your own subjective response to looking at it. “Understanding” the work isn’t the point. You shouldn’t need to know about critical theory or art history to get something from it. That’s why I like work that causes a direct, immediate reaction, something that is felt but perhaps not understood. That’s what interests me about op art.
There are a few young painters working out of the Pacific Northwest that appeal to this sense. Abstraction is their mode of choice. Some of the work being produced is as bold and dizzying as a coastal mountain vista. While still early in their careers, they’re helping reshape an image of the region as a stronghold of vital young art.
Two of them, Mat Bushell and Nick Pittman, both graduates of Emily Carr University in Vancouver, have shown works that are reminiscent of op art in the sense that they bombard the eyes with pure energy, leaving you dazed and disoriented, with lysergic afterimages swimming around your brain.
Bushell, who will enter the Yale University MFA program in the fall, says what interests him about abstraction is “ambiguity and spectacle”. The untitled die-cut vinyl work he showed at both Or Gallery and Vancouver Art Gallery last year clearly displays these qualities. Composed of mirrored, zig-zagging black lines with a vacant horizontal space between them, the elements combine to create a strangely eerie poetry. Like a peyote vision, the piece seems to transport you an unconscious spiritual realm.
Now working out of his hometown of Portland, Pittman makes neo-op paintings that have more of a comic-book feel, with tubular blobs swallowing themselves and explosive blasts of cartoon colours assaulting the eyes with funhouse pleasure. I don’t know what’s going on biologically when I look at his stuff, but it feels like my eyes are spinning around to look back at my brain where there sits the residue of my youth: cartoons, candy cereal and hallucinogenic drugs.
Is there a connection between being living in the Pacific Northwest and making mind-melting art? The nature-in-your-face aspect of life around here may have something to do with it. Then again maybe not. In any case, the fact that the art world seems to be tuning in to the stuff being made by young PNW artists is a good trip.
So sit back and enjoy the ride. Everyone’s invited.
1.Mathew Bushell 2. Nick Pittman 3. Nick Pittman 4.Mathew Bushell 5. Mathew Bushell