Alex Da Corte and Paul DeMuro at Jolie Laide
Through December 17th
By Daniel Gerwin
In BLEACH, painter Paul DeMuro and sculptor Alex Da Corte take black as the presence rather than absence of color, and on this foundation create works that thicken the air with chromatic sensation. Both artists are blessed with a remarkable material touch, especially evident in DeMuro’s insistently thick paint surfaces and Da Corte’s chrome-plated toy guitars. Beauty arises from their color choices in the same manner that fire is made with flint and steel: they strike together the visually nondescript until sparks fly.
In Silver Velouria Gaze, Da Corte’s guitars float on coiling wires that respond to curvilinear elements in DeMuro’s paintings, their chromed surfaces smoky gray in one and midnight blue in the other. The sculptures rest on floor-based arrangements of framed black plastic garbage bags. 2011 began with an exhibit in New York by the artist David Hammons, in which stylized Abstract-Expressionist paintings were covered with black trash bags and clear plastic sheets. Hammons masterfully combined a funereal, death-of-painting atmosphere with a dramatic assertion of vitality. Now at the end of the year, Da Corte pulls Hammons’ garbage bags right through the abyss and brings them back out the other side by framing the bags as paintings in their own right.
This transmutation of trash bags into floor-based paintings doubling as plinths for sculpture is indicative of Da Corte’s three-dimensional engagement with painting concerns. In turn, DeMuro’s use of paint might be considered sculptural in its bas-relief application, affiliated with a focus on process that emphasizes hand-working over long periods of time. In fact, several of DeMuro’s paintings, including Pinhead, feature images of hands, almost the only representational elements to be found in his work. Painting’s renewed interest in the hand is perhaps linked to a cultural development in which people are seeking alternatives to high-tech, short attention-span, impersonal mass-production by turning to slow-food, organic farming, knitting, and Do-It-Yourself. These trends do not embody a reactionary rejection of technology (in fact, DeMuro developed his palette by using a photo-negative function on his phone), but rather they appear to be responding to the limitations of the virtual world, demonstrating a hunger for physically hand-worked material and the knowledge that comes particularly through the manual. It is notable in this show that when DaCorte places something in a picture frame (a photograph of Courtney Love, trashbags) he smears vaseline over the surface so that what is framed for optical experience must first pass through the haptic.
DeMuro’s surfaces, with their linear elements that begin, are interrupted, and reemerge, are encrusted with the painted history of his discovery of their making, a specific record of imagination that will not be repeated. The aura of the authentic original described by Walter Benjamin in 1936 seems less relevant here than a quality that might be called the intimacy of the personal. I mean to suggest that people are no longer especially invested in the cult of the original as opposed to its reproduction, but we can be moved by an encounter with somebody’s private imagination as opposed to the endless flood of products that have been focus-grouped and developed for the mass market.
Shards of letters and numbers hint at messages that have decomposed through the accretion of DeMuro’s paint layers. In Something and Pinhead, DeMuro’s black-and-white gradients give off a surprising amount of light that seems to illuminate the reflective surfaces of the guitar-sculptures facing them. The guitars themselves are from the popular interactive video game Guitar Hero, in which players turn their rock-star dreams into activated fantasy. These sculptures speak of desire that cannot be satisfied, a theme also present within the paintings’ fragmented words and numerals. DeMuro and Da Corte are engaged in something that is perhaps in tension with the tenor of the American Dream: what Martha Graham famously described as “divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching.”
Daniel Gerwin is an artist living in Philadelphia. He has an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania and is a lecturer at the University of the Arts. Daniel is a regular contributor to Machete.