by Elwyn Palmerton
Canan Tolon’s paintings are wild, kinetic, technically impressive and critically self-aware. Formally and conceptually they seem to be firing on all cylinders. Each appears to be built up off of a staggered grid which is then modified and obscured in incremental stages which approach chaos while retaining a stable underlying structure. This gives them sense of whirling energy that seems, paradoxically, hyper-controlled. They resemble an Andy Warhol put through a Constructivist or Futurist blender set to “fragment and churn,” which might suggest, also, something of their attitude towards modernity or postmodernity.
The foundational grid upon which Tolon’s paintings are built appears to — but does not — contain silkscreened photographs. This is a startling effect of process-art-cum trompe l'oeil. The uneven mottled surfaces resemble, in places, the grayscale tones of silkscreen on canvas. Their scraped and scumbled facture approximates natural textures such as choppy water or rocky desert. The geometric elements painted over this hint at architecture. This effect is especially impressive in some of the smaller black-and-white paintings. In WWW 2, for example, the blotted dark spots resemble a row of trees on a country road, while the sharp razor bladed lines suggest powerlines.
Tolon subverts the grid to establish rhythmic counterpoint, alternating light and dark areas across the bounds of the grid, subsuming but not obscuring it. This device brings to mind Warhol at his most cataclysmic: the car crash paintings, wherein uneven stuttered rhythms approximate the tire tracks of a skidding car.
The sheer variety of painterly incident and facture also impresses. It ranges from transparent washes and hard-edged geometric shapes to scraped and scumbled surfaces. In parts of Untitled 9.1, a few large blotches are dripped on with all the panache of a knocked over mop-bucket. Even the most brazenly dripped blotches and craggly scrapes are seamlessly integrated into her compositional matrix. All of this retains a stark (mostly) black-and-white graphic quality, punctuated here and there by drab pastels, mostly dull peaches and yellows.
Julie Mehretu’s equally savvy and technically daring paintings also come to mind. Mehretu’s work seems to depict globalism as swarms of data moving through highly organized virtual space. Canan also delivers this sense of whirling data in an architectural space but without optimism — just a sense of increasing chaos and likely doom: signal approaching noise. She reminds us that no matter how much data there is in the world, the capacity of a human being to absorb it may remain constant. Meanwhile, the speed and saturation of information may actually impinge on our ability to absorb it.
If there is any criticism here it might be that this work comes critically pre-approved. This vein of hyper-self-conscious “painting-is-dead-painting” is firmly entrenched in well-trod, post-Pop territory, well-mined by Gerhard Richter, Christopher Wool, Richard Prince and many others. In particular, Tolon’s palette closely resembles the grubby black and white of Wool, a painting cliche that has become a facile signifier for “smart” painting, probably because it ties an ostensibly anti-aesthetic attitude to an actually quite formal graphic elegance. Nevertheless, she gives it her own spin, shifting the ratio of irony to sincerity towards the latter while retaining the quality of probing intellect. Likewise, her painterly chops, alone, set her way ahead of the pack.
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Canan Tolon: “Where Were We” @ Anglim Gilbert Gallery through March 17, 2018.
About the Author:
Elwyn Palmerton is an Oakland-based artist dealing in obsessive and improvisational abstract paintings. A New Jersey native, he received a B.A. from New York University and an M.F.A. from The School of Visual Arts. Since graduating he has exhibited regularly in New York City and Oakland. His writing has appeared in Frieze, Art Ltd., Artillery, Sculpture and Art Review.