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Michael Kessler at Butters
In his latest showing at Butters (Portland,
Ore.), Michael Kessler adds a new note to his career-long
étude on the opposition of natural forces and man-made
structure. Based in Santa Fe, N.M., Kessler, a Prix de Rome
recipient, has made a name for himself with his acrylic
abstractions on panel, which interpose rectilinear forms with
improvisatory gestures spurted across the panel in arcs of
paint, varnish and gesso. In his newest works, architectonic
infrastructure recedes and the expressionistic daubs and
dollops spring forward, larger than in Kessler’s previous
work, more spermatozoal in shape, and more proliferative in
quantity, dotting the compositions like punctuation marks with
minds—and flagella—of their own. Passages in the works such as
Quiddity and Asphalia have a burned-in effect, as if strata of
vegetal imagery have been revealed by the searing-through of
the panels’ outermost layers. Another new development lies in
the surfaces themselves, which are not glossy (as they were
for years) but instead matte or semi-gloss. “The high-gloss
finishes were starting to get trendy,” the artist said at his
Butters opening, “so I decided I wanted to distance myself
Chromatically, too, the painter continues
his slow trek across the color wheel. Collectors know him
best, perhaps, for his deep, voluptuary reds, often offset by
glamorous black. As recently as his 2005 outing at Santa Fe’s
NüArt Gallery, he had signaled a turn toward ecru, his work
growing more introverted, drier to the eye.
Portland outing he explores the relationship between red and
green in works such as Damier, Daedal, Kymograph, and Antapex.
Happily, this pairing does not register even peripherally as
Christmas-like but rather evokes the artist’s New Mexico
roots: both ascetic and sensual, astringent and luscious, like
a cocktail of sangria and sage, shaken into bracing equipoise.
Far from a regionalist painter, Kessler has seen his works
acquired into prominent national collections; and yet the more
universal his organic/geometric studies become, the more they
reflect his environs in the craggy, crystalline Southwest.
Politics, as Tip O’Neill famously posited, is always local.
So, Kessler suggests, is art.