Dave Malone (Phillips Gallery)



Having the pleasure of conversation with artist Dave Malone this afternoon at Phillips Gallery as he and Meri deCaria were hanging his work to open his show in just a few days, my impression of Malone as a masterful abstractionist never came to the fore, this was something I already knew, but many things I did not know about the art of abstraction, pure abstraction today, were brought to my attention. This weekend is a celebration of abstract art in Salt Lake City with the top tier of abstractionists being shown at the group exhibition Abstraction at the Rio Gallery, which promises to dazzle with the brightest and the best our horizon. While Malone has his own show at Phillips he will also be represented at the Abstraction show.


The canvases are bold yet contained abstract entities. They might be described as truly emotive in that they are so gesturally expressive coming from some deep place within the artist as is evident in the visual intensity. Although they are abstract, each has a quasi-iconic look as each assumes a strong centralized form of heavy color and heavy tones within a clean field of white canvas. Being watercolors, a piece such as “Pipes,” retaining the quasi-iconic, centralized look, has a vertical mode of expression with vertical weighty bands of color of different lengths of different heights on the canvas. Like every amorphous shape of every canvas, there is a play of color, mostly heavy, sometimes light. With “Pipes” the bands are each placed next to the other so the individual color of each band bleeds into the next creating a cacophony of color or a symphony of color, that is for the viewer to determine, as we shall soon relate. There are over twenty very impressive watercolors in this show, each with its own variables of structure, and there are 5 wall structures that function in a similar manner of form.  


Malone fits right in with the best and on his own, with abstraction that is, from my experience of it, not lackadaisical, one that seems to push itself and nudge this way and that, trying to get comfortable with itself, and it is this trying to get comfortable with itself that the malleability of the form and the linearity of any represented structure, are thus made representative of a myriad of intriguing phenomenology of abstraction. Such are simply not brought to the fore in general discussions or readings of abstraction, but it is an opportunity such as this, that the advantage might be taken to glean the most from this getting comfortable.


One of the most interesting phenomena learned from my perspective is how the getting comfortable and the process prior to the accomplishment when there is a state of disarray can be quite a comfortable, or literally beautiful thing. This was noticed with “One Day,” a painting I described to Malone as a cacophony of linear shape with no resemblance to anything, set at unusual angles, with flatness here and depth there, and a blending of earthy color with no regularity or apparent rhyme or reason of any sort, one might even call the construct of linear structure and color wash form based on an arbitrariness. But how beautiful an idea to be so detached from the realms of purpose, to be so liberated from reason, to be totally free from realization, to where the painting exists purely on its own merit, with a cacophony that is beautiful in its disunity, and disheveled state?


Malone was surprised by this observation and mentioned how he had always sought to find the opposite of cacophony, a symphony, and sees just this within his structure and form. My realization is that the symphony is easy. It has long been accomplished innumerable times by innumerable great artists of all types, but for a cacophony to be truly beautiful, and not just bad attempt at art, this is a rare thing indeed. It takes an artist also detached, who is completely liberated, and someone so free as to be indefinable; someone very much an artist.


Malone’s more current work, in his symphonic reality of its phenomena, is more of a hybridization than his recent past work, and has a look that is ironically more attached to the past, but has the zeitgeist of the present. The recent past works look much like Frankenthaler’s or Deffebach’s on a scale of minutia of color wash form. The newer works function with the distinctive reality of neo-Modernity of today’s great abstraction even more so than the previous having a look that is quintessentially neo-Modern, yet there is no single predecessor to whom it can be traced to in its hybridism.


The truth of the work is that it functions on color obscurity in areas of wash like a Deffebach, such as the magnificent “Emergence,” with its heavy centralized darker wash that has the essence of a Motherwell in its heaviness, or a Klein in its dark gesture. This dark heaviness bleeds into vivid yellows and in some areas can be found silver blue, even pink. Yet the neo-Modernism is phenomenologically granted by the needlepoint sharp line that winds its way through it like a gentle cocoon an in certain areas of closed shape encapsulating color. This speaks a surrealist language of Miro or the playfulness of Klee.


The painting may have essences of Frankenthaler or the playfulness of Klee but like every abstraction in the series, it is not grounded on form alone or structure alone; this is not the High Modern this is contemporary neo-Modern and something very different. Contemporary abstraction may have much to do with the past but is a new entity today in a world that has done an unthinkable number of 360’s since the days of the Abstract Expressionists and post-Painterly-Abstractionists.


For the abstraction of Malone, and for most good abstractionists today, there requires a touchstone, a signifier of some sort that designates it as today. Be it a circle, a repeated gesture, a certain use of a particular color regularly or in anyway implicitly, any shape that might look iconic, or the line that is ubiquitous in Malone’s work, as are also hollowed out spheres or amorphous form or repetition of stripes.


“Untitled 004” and “Untitled 002” each assume a distinctive regularity in their abstraction. “Untitled 004” uses a width of vertical bands of citrus yellow yet with much play with the element of the water in the color and the saturated water that spreads around this rhythm of vertical bands of unevenly placed, spaced, toned, and hued color, creates a faint aureole around the centralized form. The very same phenomena occur for “Untitled 002” yet in black eliciting an entirely different receptivity to the form. “Untitled 007” and “Untitled 005” are both very tersely painted watercolors with little play of color except for gradation of the hue within the form. Each or these forms is tightly centralized, “Untitled 007” being a rust tone that is vertical, “Untitled 005” being black that is horizontal. Each are acutely nebulous with evenly spaced, evenly structured rings of space left open within these nebula, yet each of the rings have been allowed to be saturated by watered hue to varying degrees, to a point almost of obscurity. The color, the placement, the iconography, each allows for a different response such as mood or cognitive association that is utterly distinctive for each.    


Today’s abstraction, like fine art in general, has developed from the past. We still appropriate Modernist methodologies and our reality is decidedly post-Modern, but abstraction has gotten comfortable in today’s world. Like everything else, it does not have empty dreams of vague utopias but real presences of genuine, easy, and comfortable connectivity. There has to be something to keep it a unified art; this is one of those ways, of many, found in Dave Malone’s phenomenological workings of his abstraction discovered during a very pleasant afternoon.



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