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Art review: Bart Exposito at Thomas Solomon Gallery

May 13, 2010 |  2:42 pm

400.BEx10-37 For most of the past decade, Bart Exposito has been making sleek abstract paintings that bridge seemingly unbridgeable gaps -- between high-style fashion and low product-design, machine fabrication and hand craft, bemused spontaneity and earnest control. The populism of commercial taste collides with the elitism of informed aesthetics.

In the process Exposito has developed an irresistible body of post-Pop, Neo-Hard-Edge abstraction that encloses otherwise grinding aspects of today's schizophrenic culture and mixes up ingrained assumptions. At Thomas Solomon Gallery, five recent canvases, among his largest to date, are also among his best.

Their collective title is “Bends.” The word is simply descriptive of the thick, curved black line that bifurcates each composition, usually vertically but in one case horizontally. Exposito paints with acrylics on smoothly primed canvas. The acrylic line is less like a precision cut through the picture than a hand-made division, its precise but irregular width akin to the inevitable variation in a sign-painter's hand-drawn mark.

The swooping, arched or undulating black line separates a flat, blue-gray, not quite metallic field on one side from an atmospheric expanse of a single hue in the other -- orange, blue, green or red. (In a yellow painting, the undulating line down the center seems to twist and split the gray field in two.) The work's ancestry encompasses art as different as the cerebral composure of a John McLaughlin painting, with its Zen-inspired tensile balance, the punchy graphic kick of a Nicholas Krushenick and the systemic formality of a Frank Stella “protractor” painting.

Exposito's paintings, each one 7 feet by 6 feet, aren't visually disturbing; instead, they're subversive. (The title “Bends” also wryly suggests the pathological term for an obstruction in the human circulatory system, caused by a big, sudden plunge in atmospheric pressure.) They tap into entrenched conflicts between high and low, without being confrontational. Instead, they exploit these differences to conjure new forms.

400.BEx10-36

Those forms can be tough to describe. Between the flat and atmospheric fields, for example, Exposito inserts segments of circles, skinny rectangles, disk fragments, bars and triangular shapes, themselves sometimes curved, all painted in flat hues. When juxtaposed, these variously colored shapes can imply three-dimensional forms -- a science-fiction landscape, perhaps, or a schematic design for the body's movement along a staircase (think Oskar Schlemmer and Bauhaus design set in motion).

These shapes, carefully outlined in gray and black, appear to sprout from the flat gray field, probing the atmospheric space like weird ganglia. The colored atmospheres, by contrast, are streaked with soft pastels. The streaks, horizontal or vertical like the eccentric shapes jutting into their space, create moist, visual vapor trails like the ones left by an airplane's wing.

The refinement in Exposito’s work is bracing, not only for its formal skill but for its generosity of spirit. These are paintings that take what they need from wherever they might find it, solely to give back a satisfying array of visual and conceptual surprises.

– Christopher Knight

Thomas Solomon Gallery, 427 Bernard St., Chinatown, (323) 275-1687, through June 12. Closed Sun. through Tue. www.thomassolomongallery.com

Images: "Bends (Orange)" (top). Photo credit: Dennis Hollingsworth. "Bends (Yellow)." Photo credit: Joshua White/jwpictures.com. Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Gallery.
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