Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lawrence Carroll, That What Comes, @ Galerie Karsten Greve

Lawrence Carroll, White Oval Painting, 2014-2017
As always, I went to see one exhibition at Karsten Greve and fell in love with another. While the press and social media are raving about the Giorgio Morandi exhibition in the courtyard gallery, I was blown away by the powerful paintings of Lawrence Carroll in the store front. Carroll’s paintings were a very exciting discovery for me, and will be for others.

Lawrence Carroll, Untitled, 2017
The press statement claims that “Lawrence Carroll shares an affinity with Giorgio Morandi in his constant quest for the poetic potential of everyday objects…” But after less than five minutes in the presence of Carroll’s work, viewers will recognize that his major influence is not Morandi, but Cy Twombly. In one of most exquisite pieces on display, three wooden ovals placed on three separate shelves in a vitrine have been touched by paint applied with scrunched up paper or a rag. The resulting flower like patterns that drip with excess paint will be recognizeable from the bleeding red images that covered Twombly’s huge canvases at the end of his life. Carroll’s practice is more intimate, delicate and subtle; afterall, the White Oval Paintings are painted in white on small pieces of wood, not red on oversized canvases. Nevertheless, when I saw the works in the vitrine, my suspicion was confirmed. Carroll has borrowed a lot of Twombly’s visual language, though admittedly, he does something very different with it. In the upstairs gallery, there is also a series of works on paper executed in and presumably influenced by Bolsena, Italy. Twombly lived half of his year in Bolsena, and the lake washes over so much of his abstract work, if only by implication. A picture in the artist book that accompanies the exhibition shows Carroll and Twombly leaving Galerie Karsten Greve together. And so, even those who want to dispute the visual resonance between the two artists’ work, there is no question that Twombly is an enormous influence on Carroll’s painting.

Lawrence Carroll, Grotte Paintings, 2017
 One of the most compelling elements of Carroll’s work is the painting on found wood and cardboard, turning objects that have no market value into sculptures through the use of paint. To be sure Carroll’s sculpture-paintings introduce something new as can be seen in the oval paintings: thanks to their size and shape, we look into, rather than at them, as if in a mirror. Even when the ovals are painted in black as in Black Mirror Paintings, our look turns to a peering into the image. This mode of looking at small round works makes them resemble devotional paintings; we behave as if they are icons on wooden supports. Thus, painting becomes an object—of which there is, however, no likeness, because the image is abstract. Similarly, we are not invited to contemplate because these works are broken and evidently imperfect: the wood has splintered away, and the uneven frame around the wood stops us from contemplation. 

Lawrence Carroll, Black Mirror Paintings, 2014
By contrast, the silverpoint works on paper are delicate and fragile, giving them a sense of something precious. Thoughts are expressed, as the press release tells us, reminding us of Chinese landscape drawings. These are completely opposite to the mirror and oval paintings in the way they are made, the contact with the brush and pen, and the way that we look at them.
Lewis Carroll, Grotte Paintings, 2017
Perhaps most breathtaking of the works on display are the Grotte Paintings in which Carroll paints water. I think back to Hockney’s attempt to paint the movement of water in a swimming pool, and recognize Carroll’s as closer to the sea with its sense of infinity, and its instability. There are no reflections or patterns made on the surface of this water. It is far more autonomous, irreverent to humans, complelely uninviting for us to swim in it. Nevertheless, once again, our eyes don’t lead us to fall into it, but rather, we are amazed at its undulations, its variability and constant green motion across the surface of painting.  

Lewis Carroll, Grotte Paintings, 2017

Most disturbingly, there are holes in the canvas—as if it has been punctured. As a result, the lilting, gently reflective silent surface of water is completely shattered by holes. There is also the implication that Carroll has gouged out these holes with a scalpel or a sharp instrument. The violation of the surface of the canvas is a desecration that shows an anger – coming out of nowhere. This contradiction makes the Grotte Paintings endlessly fascinating and unlike any other representation of water – of which there are many in the history of painting.