Jonathan Leach

galleryHOMELAND, Portland

Sam Korman

Jonathan Leach, Paved with good intentions, 2008; acrylic on canvas; 76 x 53 inches; courtesy the artist, galleryHOMELAND, Portland, and Gallery Sonja Roesch, Houston

Cities are unpredictable, abstract configurations of ideas and forms, hives of people arranged in sometimes concrete, sometimes flexible hierarchies. Despite vectors directing us to work, school or home, we wander amidst buildings, in traffic, amongst people—a myriad of interactions constantly redefining the course we take. So, when walking into Jonathan Leach’s Someday We’ll Find It…, the Houston artist’s solo exhibition at galleryHOMELAND, one must ask: How? And where?

Two multipartite paintings on canvas, Take it from here and Waking up dead, are staggered along the gallery’s long exhibition corridor. The only completely abstract paintings among the ten works on view, each presents stripes, arrows and widening chevrons in neon pastel acrylics. The shapes and colors push and pull the eye, forcing a wandering movement throughout each composition that contrasts with the canvases’ heavily static position against the wall. The cluster of canvases comprising Take it from here, for example, features bold diagonals and arrows converging like street intersections. When one steps back, however, the shapes suggest the silhouette of a cityscape in diminished perspective. It’s an appealing displacement, applying some wit to otherwise bland surfaces by pushing them into three-dimensional picture planes.

Someday We'll Find It…, 2010; installation view, galleryHOMELAND, Portland; courtesy the artist, galleryHOMELAND, Portland, and Gallery Sonja Roesch, Houston

The most successful works in the show further this movement by enacting it in physical space, literally expanding Leach’s visual constructions into three dimensions. Employing the same heavy acrylics but on Plexiglas cubes, Leach’s sculptures such as WYS create a situation where viewers may circle, explore and navigate—to locate, presumably, that which is beyond the show’s incomplete title. The painted stripes and arrows that adorn both the interior and exterior of each box are separated by the quarter-inch panes, obscuring each other with shadows and shading the interior with ephemeral lines that relate as much to the installation and lighting as to how one moves around these objects. Rather than asserting the artist, whose depictions of power lines and reimagined buildings elsewhere in the show belie a heavily sentimental approach to big cities, the boxes suggest greater agency for the objects themselves, effacing such urban clichés with sheer objecthood.

The rest of the work on view is best summed up in the painting Paved with good intentions and its titular implication of movement toward something. The painting depicts buildings in slightly receding grids that awkwardly juxtapose with a background of horizontal and vertical stripes. Here, as elsewhere, Leach’s attitude toward the abstracted steel, concrete, glass and signage making up the visual environment of the city is beatific. His palatable colors and imagery recall the graphic design used to rebrand and promote America’s new metropolises—all too visible throughout a burgeoning city like Portland. His compositions resemble a poster advertisement for a new high-rise condominium conflated with the work of Frank Stella. In view of its only modestly ironic title, Paved with good intentions presents an undeveloped view on Modernism’s complicated history of utopianism.

Relying on the aesthetic, rather than theoretical, qualities of non-illusionistic painting, Leach creates work that is eager to move but without measured direction. When traveling through a city, the crosswalks, intersections and traffic stripes visually delineate clear trajectories. To represent these forms verbatim is a political statement, asking the viewer to reconsider not only the forms’ effects but also their intentions. In contrast, Leach’s unconsidered sentimentality prefers to hold our hand while crossing the street rather than run out into traffic.

Sam Korman is an artist and writer in Portland, OR. His first book, Notes From A Young Curator, is due out in December from Publication Studio (Portland). He is currently working on another book with artist Israel Lund entitled Books End, due out in January from Publication Studio (Berkeley).

This exhibition will be on view until December 5, 2010.

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