In a few short years, Ross Bleckner’s paintings have moved from the metaphysical to the grossly physical. Gone are the lyrical brushstrokes, soaring birds, glowing urns, flowers, and candescent beams of light. The hand of the artist is no longer obvious; in its place is a sleek, mechanized pointillism, a surface packed with small organic shapes the size of coffee beans that most resemble human cells. While Bleckner’s symbolism has frequently dealt with issues around to death and dying and is often associated with the AIDS epidemic, his subject matter seemed to hint at the afterlife. Now his concerns are literal, visceral: disease under a microscope. Some of the paintings at Boone were clusters of sickly grayish green cells festering with red, raspberry-like malignancies. Others resemble strands of DNA, chromosomes, floating molecules and microorganisms.
The method is one Bleckner originally devised for detail in his other work. Each “cell” is created by a short burst from a air gun that pushes wet paint away from the center, to reveal a contrasting ground. The result is a delicate shading that suggests roundness and indeed, at certain vantage points, the effect is almost three-dimensional. But while the technique doesn’t vary, the outcome ranges from grisly to bland to transcendent. While most fell into the first two categories, there were two oversize (ten by nine feet) paintings at Lehman Maupin, both entitledTimes and Communities, that represent the best of the old and new Bleckner. The images are floating and amorphous, the colors muted grays and sepias. While it could be said that they resemble amoebae, the content is more dreamy and ambiguous, and the paintings glow with some of the inner light that vitalized Bleckner’s work in the past.