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Jeff Perrone: Cheim & Read.

Stripe paintings are something like guineas and crowns, coins once of genuine value now interesting mainly to specialists and students of the literature. To mint them today is to risk bankruptcy. Given the historical impact of stripe works like Stella's of the late '50s and '60s, that may seem harsh; but the genre's stock was devalued by the low historical standing of some of its manifestations in Op art and elsewhere, and by formalists' difficulty in distinguishing stripes from decoration--a class they thought it crucial to escape. Yet Jeff Perrone's works return this old cash to currency.

The stripes in Perrone's paintings--a term of convenience here, paint per se being unlisted among his media--are far less even than Stella's; bands of usually solid color, they may bend and narrow, swell and slant. Their outlines, too, are irregular--made up of buttons sewn tightly onto the canvas, so that the effect is a kind of scalloping, a rhythmic flicker in the eye. This pulse is picked up at the works' edges, which are faced on left and right with what might be the moldings of interior decor, or ranks of children's building blocks.

Color and texture are as vital as pattern in these works, whose stripes are constituted alternately from strips of West African mud cloth applied to the canvas and from a kind of paste Perrone makes out of commercially available colored sands. His colors are to some extent found colors, then (although I understand he may mix the sands as one might mix paint), but in their selection and combination they also reflect his distinctive chromatic eye. Primaries are rare; yellows fall toward mustards, reds brighten into oranges, in a complex play of alkaline and acid. The mud cloth--handwoven and colored with vegetable and mineral dyes--has a gorgeous, thick, nubbly feel, while the dried sand has a texture that's hard to describe: something like grainy cake icing, maybe. Both of these surfaces seem more absorbent than reflective, as if some dark substratum were sopping up their light--and yet they glow, with a vividness caged in their density. At the same time, the subtly recessive quality to their acceptance of light contrasts with the colors and shapes of the buttons, which not only project literally outward but come forward to the eye as they shine.

I began with Stella and formalism, but Perrone's references range far more widely: His gallery press release mentions Aboriginal, Anasazi, Basotho, Igbo, Incan, Indian, Kuba, Navajo, Tibetan, and Turkmen art; Africa is also present in the material itself, the mud cloth (bogolanfini) of the Bamana of Mali. In fact a complex politics is embedded in this work, which is informed in part by formalist debate on the nature of painting. The fact that Perrone uses no paint, for example, while clearly leaning on painting's history suggests a comment on those old attempts to define what painting is. Similarly, his open reliance on global decorative traditions, mundane but beautiful, relates subversively to the concept of "pure" abstraction and turns the effort to distinguish that art from decoration on its head. (There is, of course, a precedent for this principle in the Pattern and Decoration art of the '70s, on which Perrone has written extensively.) You might even find a kind of sly feminization of formalism's rather masculinist body of thought in Perrone's art of sewing on buttons. All of which might not mean much if the visual experience of these paintings weren't so wonderfully rich.
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Title Annotation:New York
Author:Frankel, David
Publication:Artforum International
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:578
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