Archive for July, 2018

Wide Awake passes the Turing test

Parquet Courts at SXSW 2013

Wide Awake, the new album from Parquet Courts, is a relief. I’d almost given up on these guys. In his production of the album, Danger Mouse has helped bring them back to their core strengths, while at the same time becoming a bit like the musical equivalent of Prozac. He makes the overall experience less discordant and much, much more enjoyable than the band’s work since their breakthrough album, but he also rounds off the edges a bit. In a few tracks, the boys hit their post-punk target with the same raw power and wit (“Do I pass the Turing test?”) that was so evident in Light Up Gold. Yet much of this pleasurably surprising album stays at a less frenetic pitch. What’s hopeful is that, in comparison with the experimental recordings they’ve been tinkering with, here they’ve kept faith with their unkempt appetite for a relentless beat, and are a little more considerate of an average Ramones lover’s needs. What I miss is the sense of their cutting completely loose, flirting with barely controlled frenzy in obeisance only to a melody and their phenomenal drummer, Max Savage. They have yet to set the crossbar any higher than Master of My Craft but they’re getting close.

No ideas but in things

Frederick Hammersley’s notes for possible titles

To live and work by inspiration you have to stop thinking.      –Agnes Martin

Frederick Hammersley was a sort of visual Taoist. Everything in his work seems to emerge out of a creative tension between polar opposites. Even his titles often depend on the polarities of a pun. If something in his work is pregnantly curved, it will be answered by razor-sharp angles elsewhere. In his organic images, the paint seems as irresistibly pure and fresh and new as tinted icing on a cake, yet it will be surrounded by a frame that looks salvaged and restored, as distressed as driftwood. These one-off, hand-crafted wooden frames—the urge to run a fingertip across them was mighty strong when I saw his work in 2011—are countered by the thin, low-profile lines of the floater frames that contain his geometric images. He worked on comparatively miniature canvases for the organic paintings and built the shadow box frames seemingly to bulk them up, and the frames work as yet another essential, polarizing element. They are almost prosthetic, a completion of the work, different from the way Howard Hodgkins integrated his frames with the work by making them a wider surface for his paint. With Hammersley, the frames are idiosyncratic, original, married to the painting rather than subordinate to it, making the painting a distinctly three-dimensional object, physical and situated in a particular place in front of the viewer’s body, a fellow traveler through time, smiling with an unspoken individual history. The painting sits inside the shallow box, without seeming to touch it, at rest, at home.

In these organic paintings, black and white wrestle as opposites often in their own tiny zip codes, yet they are segregated in such a way that their polarity is enveloped by the larger polarity between this opposing duo and the various peninsulas of luminous color around them. It’s wheel within wheel of opposing elements, smaller polarities within larger ones.

Group Insurance, Frederick Hammersley

Hammersley’s organic shapes look anatomical and informal, hand-written, as if they could be cartoon X-rays of whatever is going on inside a Dr. Seuss figure. His lines feel as recognizable as a signature. The coloring book shapes allow him to juxtapose one pure color against another. The tones glow with delight, a calmly heightened response to the experience of seeing one spot of pure color next to another. They offer understated, captive ecstasies. Their color harmonies emerge gradually as you view them. The assertive, overconfident world of so much large-scale abstraction depends on its ambitious scale. Hammersley’s luminously colored lobes huddle and fold into one another like vulnerable newborns on small canvases; they almost need their frames to get noticed.

His geometric paintings are much larger, but not all that big. The work I saw at Ameringer McEnery Yohe (now Miles McEnergy) were square, ranging between three and four feet wide, small enough to fit on the wall of nearly any American house. As David Reed pointed out in the show’s catalog, Hammersley’s work was meant to be part of one’s daily life, a domestic companion, not something to visit on “high art occasions.” The structure of his geometries seem like an entirely dispassionate pursuit, like MORE