Two generations ago, modernist artists were exhorted to throw off the past and plunge fearlessly into the pure, abstract future — to “keep art moving,” in critic Clement Greenberg’s words. One generation ago, famished under Greenbergian dietary strictures, artists began to re-examine the history of art, finding in postmodernist theory the mandate for such retrogression. Unfortunately, most of these expropriationists merely pillaged the past without assimilating it —time-traveling colonialist explorers, they dragged their stunned booty back to the future, where it was promptly deracinated, recontextualized, and shackled in paralyzing irony. This temporal imperialism was a shallow, disrespectful esthetic, dandyism on steroids, and it produced much glib, cynical art. Fortunately, however, many artists have always preserved a vital yet unslavish connection to tradition; DeKooning, for example, considered it a great, nourishing soup, and so should we.
The mixed-media paintings of Chris Trueman at Joyce Gordon Gallery grow from the past, but are completely contemporary, examining as they do our oscillation between “wonderment and ambivalence [toward] natural phenomena, interconnectedness and solitude in communications, [and] fear and hope in technology.” These works on paper and wood panel combine collaged found imagery (Xeroxes and transfers, à la Rauschenberg), abstract curvilinear patterning (ornamental motifs derived probably from architecture and furniture design), and a dramatic geometry of planes and grids floating in deep-perspective pictorial space (cubism and surrealism, and perhaps Ronald Davis), and expanded out into real space with cat’s cradles threaded on nails just above the picture plane. Somehow the collision of these various frames of reference is harmonized and controlled. Trueman’s smoky, Turneresque color effects and intense palette certainly cajole the eye into rapt acceptance, but his deft spatial and textural layering also helps create these radiant, mellifluous atmospheres in which astronauts, trees, Viking ships, farm laborers, skulls, Roman battle elephants, and helicopters co-exist, along with rippling incised or collaged arabesques, sweeping curvilinear trajectories, and the ghostly, abstracted polygonal traces of walls and buildings. The works contain no narrative, only a continual flux, with their objects temporary and contingent rather than fixed; they’re cosmic encyclopedias of human history, but idiosyncratic. What Trueman does in the future with his interest in the Internet, digital media, “temporality and timelessness,” and the “symbiosis between machine- and man-made” will be worth following. (Through June 26 at Joyce Gordon Gallery (406 14th Street, Oakland). JoyceGordonGallery.com or 510-465-8928.