Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Psychedelia Redux, or Postmodern Doodling, or...?
Psychedelia Redux, or Postmodern Doodling, or…?
By Tom Wachunas
The salon-style exhibit of several dozen untitled paintings by Joe Cortese, currently on view for maybe a few weeks at Acme Artists, poses something of a conundrum for anyone looking to pigeonhole exactly what he does as a painter. My suggestion is…don’t try. Better to take your cues from the show’s title – “Joe Cortese: The Life and Mind of…” – and be content to know that what Joe Cortese does best is…Joe Cortese.
There’s a lot of nodding going on here: nods to the Abstract Expressionists, including some Pollockian splatter jobs sans the gripping density; nods to Byzantine-type intricate patterning and bordering; nods to the ‘automatic writing’ of the Surrealists; nods to the urban graffiti milieu; nods to the underground comics of the 1970s; some nods to Peter Max (on steroids, maybe) psychedelia. If there is a dominant flavor in this mixed bag, Cortese himself calls it (in a September 16 Canton Repository story) “…a glorified doodle.” Or at least (when the paintings fall short of unarguably “glorious,” which many do) structured painterly scribbling.
And indeed, it’s the exploring of pictorial structures – regardless of what the paintings signify in overt content – that I find to be the most unifying element of this show. More specifically, structural dualities. Within the picture plane, Cortese often describes two “systems” of configurations (elaborate linear illustrations and amorphous color fields, for example) that can be either wholly separate, or integrated edge-to-edge - one system imposed upon, or in harmony with, another. If these works do signify the mind of the artist, it’s a mind that apparently loves, simultaneously, organized and elaborate decoration for its own sake, and surrender to serendipity; precise, intentional design and expressive spontaneity.
This tension, this clash and/or blending of motifs, has an emotional resonance (surely personal to Cortese, yet suggestive for us in one way or another) that is often quite intense, translated into a color dynamic that can be alternately cloying and inviting. We’re witnesses to the artist’s struggle to negotiate that tension into an agreement of some sort. Sometimes the resolution is awkward, left in suspended animation. And when there is a truce, many of Cortese’s intricate forms and surfaces, while often collaborating to produce dramatic spatial depth, and despite passages of saturated, neon-bright color, tend to radiate an aura of battle-induced ennui rather than any really ardent optimism.
In the end, amid the variously frenzied, brash, or sometimes silly pictorial content to be encountered in these works, I’m nonetheless left with the sense that there might be a latent or understated genius at work. The best paintings in this wild gestalt speak more compellingly about a process than about anything of discernable, accessible “reality,” and there’s certainly nothing intrinsically wrong with that. In any event, rest assured that for those of us who opt to peer deeply into that process, there’s little chance of, so to speak, nodding off.
Photo, courtesy Canton Repository Sept. 16 issue of ‘Ticket.’ Joe Cortese at Acme Artists, 332 Fourth Street NW, downtown Canton. (330) 452- 2263.