Meredith Long & Company
A Google image search for grid painting turns up dozens of artists who arrange colored rectangles to create what two-dimensional-design teachers call plastic compositions, meaning they form a continuous space rather than look as if they have been applied to a surface like stickers (a graphic composition). It's an old game, popularized by Josef Albers and his many disciples, and it is an integral part of modern art education. However, the long history of grid painting makes it too easy to pigeonhole Marco Villegas' new works. It's easy to dismiss them without ever considering what they are about or how well they work.
Villegas has been using flat latex house paint and masking tape to produce geometric paintings since 1999. He gradually abandoned the fluorescent acid-green paint and funky shaped canvasses of his early work for more sober, nature-based abstractions. His paintings need the cleanest of white spaces and plenty of breathing room to be properly viewed. They are ill served by Meredith Long's intimate front gallery. Low ceilings place spotlights so close to the paintings that they create harsh pools of light, which interfere with subtle color variations. The space's unfortunate parquet floor mimics the paintings' crisscross rectangles in a distracting manner.
Marco Villegas, A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, 2005
Latex on canvas
60 x 72 inches
Three paintings collectively titled A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun are thoughtful constructions of overlapping rectangles, pushing and pulling one another in a restrained but restless dynamic like moving water. It's funny to describe such minimal, geometric paintings as natural, but chalky, chocolate-brown blocks could be rock formations; blue spots, a desert sky. Larger shapes rest at the bottom; smaller forms near the top imply a receding space like a landscape. The riverrun paintings thereby invite interpretation as pictures.
Nowadays, whenever someone paints squares, comparison with the pixelation inherent to digital images is inevitable. At a party a few weeks ago, I encountered a groove tube, a plastic gismo resembling a big ice-cube tray that sticks to the screen of a TV with suction cups. It transforms whatever is on the screen into a hypnotic grid of colored squares. Many contemporary painters are doing the samereproducing pixelated digital images as abstract paintingsbut not Villegas. He builds staircases, windows and walls of colored blocks, counting on the prejudice of the human eye to lead us into, around and through his purposeful constructions. His pleasant, satisfying palette is also quite unlike the queasy, in-between hues computer-derived works favor.
Marco Villegas, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 2005
Latex on canvas
60 x 72 inches
In a second series of paintings entitled 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, rectangular canvas is subdivided into smaller and smaller squares, circling inwards in an archetypal spiral, like that of seashells or sunflowersa sight made familiar by educational films and nature shows. Using this formula as the framework for a painting gives it a built-in mystical import that is as irritating as it is impersonal. Villegas has the wit to avoid using a predictable progression of colors, but he fills the diminishing squares of this piece as if it were a coloring book. Some are pristine; others are marred by stray bits of paint and slight discolorations. Many are obviously old works that have been painted over, leaving a distracting network of lines under the surface. In 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 (#2), the remnants of a very different, non-grid composition clearly show through, disrupting the calm geometry Villegas seems to be aiming for.
Like other Houston artists, such as Aaron Parazette, Jeff Elrod, Francesca Fuchs and Rachel Hecker, Villegas uses tape to take the messy daubing out of painting and give it the authority of industrial production but he waffles, leaving remnants of painterly practice that stick out like a sore thumb. In work this minimal, every nuance is important, and Villegas' execution is distractingly inconsistent.