Andrew Spence at Ed Thorp

Andrew Spence at Ed Thorp
Art in America
July, 2003
pp. 89-90

In his work, as it has evolved over the last nearly 30 years, Andrew Spence has managed to make unlikely partners of both severity and wit. These are austere paintings, in that they employ large monochromatic areas and uncomplicated images, yet there is a subtle goofiness in Spence's simple emblematic patterns, often delineated on grounds of the insouciant primary and secondary colors we associate with children's toys. His innate drollness is offset by an acute attention to surface; in contrast to the often geometric nature of his imagery, there is a palpable sensuality in these smooth, waxy layers of oil paint masterfully applied with a palette knife--shapes of thick, solid pigment divided by satisfyingly clean, almost engraved edges. Sometimes his images, as in Lumpy, a clunky starburst of rainbow hues, are not strong enough to justify such painstaking yet lush execution. But when Spence achieves the perfect balance of seriousness and whimsy, the effect is charming.

Change has always come slowly to Spence's work, but this exhibition of paintings, all from 2002, was marked by significant shifts in both concept and content. While his earlier images were based on abstractions of actual objects found in his surroundings, they are now more often completely fanciful, inspired by emotions or feelings. Lighter, less ponderous than previously, these patterns of delicate lines introduce a new and welcome motility into the mix. State of Mind is a snowy ground with interlaced circles in hula-hoop colors whirling around grids of four dots, and Grace is almost a lattice of curving and straight lines. Of all the paintings here, Bob is the most deliciously complex, although its impact is direct. Its basis is a rectangle bisected by a Kelly-esque curve, over which Spence has imposed a rounded toplike shape that appears to twirl on an absurdly small point. The "top" is indicated by horizontal stripes that change color part way across to form other shapes that interact with the curve of the ground, resulting in a pattern that shifts and changes emphasis as you look at it. Our expectation of primary colors is happily thwarted by Spence's use of grass green rather than yellow with his blue and red, and there's an implied shadow of purple where the blue lines cross the red background. There is a lot going on in this painting, a lot to engage us, but the overriding effect is of a singular vivid form. This is beautiful work--airy, intricate yet graphically emphatic.


-Carol Diehl

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