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GRIPPING GRIDS: THE PAINTINGS OF JAIME FRANCO

Terry Meyers

1991

New York

 

 

Rosalind Krauss, in her 1979 essay "Grids,” declares that "the grid announces, among other things, modern art's will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse.”  In other words, it helps make art (specifically abstract painting) resistant to language, to description, to resemblance, to contex, to Identifying it as the pervasive form of the significant art of this century, Krauss characterizes the grid as follows: "Flattened, geometricized, ordered, it is antinatural, antimimetic, antireal. It is what art looks like when it turns its back on nature.”

 

Since 1979, however, such a simple self-referentiality has become less and less easy to accept; many painters these days have made it their task to reinvigorate the grid with a wider range of meanings, often made deliberately contradictory within the borders of a single work. No longer so formal, geometricized, or ordered (or antinatural, antimimetic, antireal), due to everything from the resistance against the repetitive decrees of the death of painting, to the implications of chaos theory, the space of the grid in painting has been re-expanded in many physical and conceptual directions. Because of this, abstract painting's relationship with the grid is complicated more than ever by an ambivalence that has been made vital- in front of current abstract painting, we usually find ourselves needing to determine if it is cynical, reverent, historicized or ingenuous, for example, since there are equally strong examples of each type being made side-by-side. This situation has helped to increase the potential and the importance of abstract painting's communication of multiple, conflicted meanings. Jaime Franco's paintings embody a complex love/hate relationship with the grid. Often delineated only to be manipulated, subverted, or obscured, his grids seem to question their own existence within the confines of the paintings' seductively worked surfaces, while simultaneously asserting their central positions as meaningful images that recontextualize the paintings into situations beyond the merely formal.

 

Each of Franco' s paintings - by not anchoring itself onto a complete gridwork, but instead by isolating fragments of competing grid structures - is formally disrupted in a manner in keeping with the spirit of the painterly effects that move around its surface. In several of the works, the outermost line segments of a large irregular grid -which are placed perpendicular to the canvas' framing edge and scattered around its perimeter-are dramatically emphasized.  Acting as a literal border, these marks, usually of a distinct color, grip the interior space of the painting, clenching it so that the vigorous brushwork that they contain seems to have been intensified by the structural, even architectural, pressure.

 

In this regard, they function in contradistinction to Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series, which has always dealt exclusively with the expanse of the landscape. Easily read either as doorways or as maps (but not as vista's), Franco's paintings of this type harness the energy of their making, diagramming it into unified fields that allude to (and fluctuate between) vertical and horizontal, interior and exterior, orientations.

 

In other paintings, Franco extends a grid consistently across the canvas to its edges without articulating any boundaries. These grids suggest an infinity that is interrupted only by the tangible ends of the painting - at least in the sections where the grids are allowed to remain readable. In these works, Franco often submerges a sizable portion of the gridwork (usually the top half) beneath an agitated scumbling of translucent oil paint, effectively undercutting its underlying structures, and ending the possibility of interpreting the grids (or, by extension, the paintings themselves) as part of some larger matrix continued beyond the physical dimensions of each individual work. Franco's paintings come down on the side of solid objects as concrete things that refer to the immaterial without yielding to it, that discuss the transcendental without overstating it.

 

In the multi-paneled works, Franco redistributes his structural investigations across emphatic physical breaks - in one triptych, each panel is constructed of two pieces of canvas roughly stapled together making the ambivalent attitude toward the grid even clearer. Another painting displays a similar perspective through opposite means: in it the grid is limited to a single axis created by the act of painting, a rubbing of the stretcher' s crossbar that keeps the canvas taut. Franco proves that the grid is something that can be contrived, manipulated, and often made conspicuous, as well as something inevitable, necessary, and frequently just beneath the surface. These paintings are distinctive examples of the fact that the grid is no longer silent or hostile, but rather open to the divergent, worthwhile discussions that are put upon, ordered around, or presented against it.

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CRITIQUE