Bring sunglasses if you plan on visiting Jimi Gleason’s Silver Deposit Paintings. It’s the closest thing to bling you’re likely to see identified as painting. Coming from an artist of lesser stature I’d probably squint and move on. But from Gleason, a post-minimalist, light-space influenced innovator, these "paintings" merit a long hard look. There is nothing facile about them.
Gleason pours molten silver across acrylic-coated canvas, and then, somehow, without immolating his canvases, he etches the metal with acid, creating formations that recall geologic and human activity. Flooding, fossilization, lava flows, urban grids and mechanized imprints come immediately to mind. While some of these features are obvious, others, because of the extreme reflectivity, are not. The pictures behave like anamorphic objects; meaning, you must move around them a bit to catch the nuances. Each step reveals new information – information that just as quickly becomes obscured by the glare of ricocheting light.
Overall, these primordial looking paintings feel a bit like what Alberto Burri might have come up with had he been a metallurgist. The link, in particular to Burri’s Combustione series, comesthrough strongest in the places where Gleason pours acid on congealed metal to reveal the underlying pigment. It appears, alternately, as blackened craters and, in other places, as black and sometimes gilded lines that accentuate the weave of the fabric itself. (Other obvious touchstones for these works are Robert Rauschenberg’s gold paintings from the early and mid 1950s.) Other artifacts of Gleason’s process include tufts of metal that protrude off the surface and sometimes dangle provocatively from the edges. The most prominent features are imprints of tank-tread and scallop-shaped starburst forms on molten metal. Multiplied layer upon layer, they pile up in messy agglomerations, creating the sense of an otherworldly landscape — of oily lakes, silvery mountains and deep fault lines seen from a high altitude.
Gleason is certainly no stranger to excess. Earlier this year, in a show at Samuel Freeman Gallery in Santa Monica, the artist showed candy-colored works where the pigment appeared to have been teased to a high froth. Here, Gleason continues the practice, substituting molten metal for paint to probe the outer reaches of biomorphicism and chance.
While several of the paintings in this show seem underworked and too similar to one another, overall, the majority of the 14 works stand out as unique, self-contained universes. H (1142), the largest at 44 x 39 inches, is a triptych comprised of swirling, colliding currents of solidified silver. Its graceful lines, in contrast to everything else in the show, appear to have coalesced as a received whole, as if the molten metal was swabbed by a pirouetting dancer. It feels like a transitional link, from the color-field paintings he did during the past decade.
Other works in the show, Apex and Diamond DeLap, look backward to the modernist practice of grid-structured composition. Only here, it’s the scorched and metal-stained weave of the canvas itself that defines the grid. The feeling is decidedly post-apocalyptic, and the setting is definitely urban, and the specific locale, if there is one, seems to be the LA basin, rendered as a charred flat expanse punctuated by jagged topography, the remains of a firestorm.
Elegant and tacky, superficial and superficially deep, Silver Deposit Paintings attracts and repels with equal force. Gleason’s technique dazzles if for no other reason than its derring-do which, by itself, warrants a salute. Abstract painting too often seems hemmed in by its past. Gleason, while tethered to that past, always strives to transcend it, and in this outing he nearly succeeds.
–DAVID M. ROTH
Jimi Gleason, “Silver Deposit Paintings” @ Toomey Tourell Gallery through September 30, 2011.