Jimi Gleason’s paintings are slick in every sense of the word.
A self-proclaimed West Coast minimalist, Gleason adopted the squeegee technique and smears his colors in broad perpendicular strokes like a veteran window washer. Of all the myriad ways paint has been applied to the canvas—sticks, pours, nude women—the squeegee stands out for being the most mechanical, producing a flat glaze with little texture, like an artisan-iced cake. In Gleason’s hands, the technique yields works that shimmer like antique mirrors.
I believe it is a compliment to the art if I feel compelled to touch it—and I would have, but LewAllen Galleries makes a big show of all its security cameras.
The inviting tactility of Gleason’s surfaces promises to enhance the viewing experience. It follows that my thoughts should remain so sensory, since the absence of subject matter leaves one without referents. In the case of pure abstraction, there is only the thing and its thingness.
Then again, there are Gleason’s titles—arcane phrases like “Phantom” and “The Vision.” I’m not sure which I dislike more: abstract art with supremely bad titles, or deeply personal, esoteric imagery called “Untitled.” In Gleason’s case, after I got to the one called “Bouncing Soul,” I just stopped reading them.
Fortunately the paintings don’t need titles to be appreciated. Most of them are comprised of a flattened, empty expanse in the center that erupts into irregularity toward the edges like an old pirate map that’s been singed too many times. The paint forms a complete flesh atop the canvas as though it were all put there at once, a sensation that is immediately nullified by the buckling layers of pigment at the edges. This is a neat trick and goes a long way toward creating the illusion of depth.
There is also the inevitable inspection of the marks, no matter how suppressed, that begs the question: “How did he do that?” One of the strengths of Gleason’s work is the simultaneity of perceived depth and utter flatness. In some cases, undulating forms appear to lurk and slither just below the surface, bubbling forth only to smooth out suddenly. In others, the compositions roil at the edges, giving the impression of sharp descents along an icy rock face. In still others, the forms appear almost to cast drop shadows, heavy black lines hugging their bottom edges. Given that the works have almost no discernible individual marks or topography, the extent of this illusion is impressive. The effect is tweaked by iridescent and metallic paints the artist uses in some of the works.
However, Gleason also does his best to undermine his efforts in other works, particularly the larger monochromes in the south end of the gallery—gaudy things painted with what looks like a broom. He also made several triptychs in which the uniform compositions are loudly interrupted by a middle stripe that clashes with the panels that bookend it. In context, these works appear as curious anomalies. I get the sense that the artist stumbled across a method of working he liked and put it through its paces, trying different formulations (now in green, now in pink, now as a triptych, etc.).
Chronology for the work in the south end couldn’t be determined, since all the work is all dated 2010. I hope this is not the direction the artist is heading, but rather a short detour or a drunken lapse in judgment, as these pieces stand out like unattractive siblings in a family of lookers. It’s nice to see the artist stretch out and experiment, but there’s something to be said for knowing one’s strengths. I think the show would have benefited from more rigorous editing. These elephants in the room detract from the retinal play of the other works in an otherwise a tidy little exhibition.
Jimi Gleason: Linked by Light
Through March 21
LewAllen Galleries at the Railyard
1613 Paseo de Peralta