Perrotin Paris presents “Chasing Rainbows,” Josh Sperling’s first exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition brings together a number of new works by the New York-based artist: composites—or shaped canvases and plywood panels—a series of monochrome canvas reliefs, and a large-scale installation.
Sperling’s dynamic clusters of brightly colored forms blur the lines between painting and sculpture, image and object. Though each shaped canvas is distinct, it relies on other forms in the eld for compositional coherence and energy. Often asymmetrical and happily off-kilter, a cluster is always satisfying in its surprising arrangement. In Poppycock (2017), three ovals compete for prominence in the center of the composition, shuffling and re-shuffling before settling into a makeshift pile. A maroon arch buttresses them, cradling them into stillness. These snaking forms—“squiggles”—appear throughout Sperling’s work and act, alternately, as instigators and appeasers of movement: the maelstrom of forms that characterizes Sperling’s work. To execute a single “squiggle,” sheets of plywood are laid on top of each other, resembling a topographical model, before they are covered in canvas and painted over in Sperling’s signature palate of saturated, sometimes clashing colors. The ridges of the wooden armature, visible through the canvas, add sculptural contrast to Sperling’s interest in flatness—of color, of form.
In Lovey Dovey (2017), a blue trident eclipses a pink orb. The overlap is rendered in a marbling of the two tones. So intense is the collision of shape and color, force against force, that the surface collapses and the colors co-mingle. Over this eclipse of forms, a single curve arches like an eyebrow in an expression of alarm, or like a crescent moon presiding over the collision and framing the event. Dots, one red and one white, act as a kind of punctuation. They are the only seemingly stable forms in an otherwise mercurial landscape of shape, color, and relation. Everything appears on the verge of balance, suspended precariously before it might tumble and fall into a new configuration. Motion seems imminent.
Sperling’s range of influences is broad. Frank Stella and his shaped canvases are clear predecessors for the meticulously crafted supports over which Sperling stretches his canvases. In this, Sperling resembles another American abstractionist, Ellsworth Kelly, whose signature hard-edge shapes took near-sculptural form in his later work; no longer the subject, they became the object itself, dictating its edges and its projection into space. Sperling picks up where his precursors left off, combining the concerns of painting—color and composition—with the spatial potential of sculpture. Whereas Kelly and Stella’s forms are unwaveringly stark, Sperling’s are sinuous and surprising.
The artist cites “Googie” signage, the exuberant graphic fad of the 50s —Jetsons-y asterisks and boomerangs—as an influence. Sperling’s forms communicate a comparable uplift of feeling, both in color and in contour. Also in Sperling’s aesthetic lineage is the short-lived Memphis furniture trend of the 80s. (Sperling was born in ‘84.) That movement’s postmodern all-things-go design philosophy disavowed “good taste” and touted improbable shapes and outrageous colors instead. Sperling is as steeped in design as he is in art history, and borrows from both. More canonical sources like Jean Arp’s kidney-shaped wall-reliefs, for instance, or the motion lines surrounding Keith Haring’s figures are also echoed in Sperling’s vocabulary of forms. This diversity of associations is to Sperling’s credit: his ability to marshal a great number of varied references deftly and seamlessly into a single work and a total oeuvre. He is capable of reverence without conceding originality or energy. The works in this exhibition are no exception, as they straddle painting and sculpture daringly, venturing from the wall and intruding into the space joyfully.
Danny Kopelall images © the gallery and the artist(s)