Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Porland, OR
by Richard Speer
In Joe Thurston’s Then, Quite Suddenly, We Were Simply No Longer Anywhere, the painter synthesized the impulsive energy of gestural painting with the time intensiveness of wood carving. Known in his native Northwest primarily for psychologically revealing portraits, Thurston made a self-assured debut as an abstract painter with this suite of vibrant acrylic relief paintings on panel. Essentially splatter paintings carved into wood, the works’ free-form drips and dollops rose above the picture plane, a dizzying sunburst of whittled-out ovals. Thurston’s color palette was bracing and counterintuitive: pumpkin, blood-orange, and aquamarine in Alteration; chocolate, baby blue, and acid green in Weight of a Minute; avacado, tomato, and salmon in Siren Quiver.
For the most part, the gestural shapes showed expansiveness and wild syncopation, often suggesting an interplay between micro- and macrocosm. Advance Effigy evoked viruses mutating on a petri dish, or a hurricane heading toward a landmass, viewed from earth orbit. Fact of Substance gave the impression of spermatozoa uniting with egg, or of phosphenes imprinting themselves onto the retina, while the yellow-on-blue Marked, with its archipelagic dots and searing tracers, suggested a tripped-out cartographer’s rendering of the Florida Keys. Only occasionally, as in the fussy Crying Back and That and That, did Thurston’s compositions lose their freedom and turn mannered.
Overall the works played upon the contrast between bold foregrounds and meticulous backgrounds. Their most unique appeal, however, lay in their stylistic mélange of action painting, Pop-inspired graphic simplicity, and the vibratory, Op-like effects of the carved sunbursts swirling beneath the shapes. Whether this superimposition of post-WWII art movements was intended as affectionate homage or snarky postmodern critique was a riddle the works left unanswered.
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