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Philip Taaffe

Gagosian Gallery (Madison Avenue)
980 Madison Avenue, 212-744-2313
Upper East Side
February 15 - March 31, 2007
Reception: Thursday, February 15, 6 - 8 PM
Web Site

I think the power and possibilities for painting today has to do with binding it to a cultural legacy. Painting is where these symbolic languages or forms somehow crystallize and reveal their ancestry – and that in turn shows a certain sense of future possibility.

Rhythm is very important in my work, the painting has to move. That’s how I compose the paintings: every part has to be activated, has to have energy. I try to work on every part of it and turn it into a unified whole. —Philip Taaffe

Taaffe is an iconoclast in the recent history of American Art. His paintings are the slow product of his wide-ranging meditations on the interrelation of generic forms and images in art, nature, architecture, and archaeology filtered through a critical and dynamic relation to the history of abstract painting, both occidental and oriental.

Taaffe’s oeuvre is remarkable for its visual exuberance and intricate craft. In a single work he combines the gestural impulses of action painting with the mechanical processes of silk-screening, as well as more archaic techniques, such as traditional gold-leaf illumination, relief printing, marbleizing, and subtle collage processes that are entirely his own innovation. Using these elaborate methods, he composes dazzling schemes of great eloquence and beauty out of a vast array of quotations and traces drawn from the storehouses of world culture.

Themes familiar to Taaffe’s past work pulse through this exhibition, recast and recombined with many other elements into new and challenging propositions. The play between control and randomness that has always structured and tempered his work has reached new levels of complexity. A particularly striking group of works entitled Columnar Heads reveals his fascination with the art of the Pacific Northwest American coastal tribes: here he invents powerful rhythms between archaic totemic imagery, twentieth century optical experiments, and animist imagery in modern art to reflect on the history of human consciousness.

In Garden of Extinct Leaves, Taaffe proposes a compelling ‘ecological’ scenario by setting rare nineteenth century botanical fossil prints that he has reconstituted from source against a field of abstract elements derived from the off-cuts of his own stencils. In Port of Saints and Locus Auratus Taaffe lays sumptuous ornamental patterns of Islamic design over Rothkoesque backgrounds of atmospheric color, and then further embellishes this scheme with undulating gold waves: the effects are at once calming and mesmeric. In other works he has experimented with marbleizing using floating pigments, an ancient technique that he imbues with new vigor. Patterns and images emerge in the roil of paint and water, to be then captured as impressions on the surface of paper. Thus the origins of abstraction are reconnected to the ebb and flow of the natural world.

In all these seemingly diverse yet conceptually coherent experiments with the life of forms in art, Taaffe’s exacting oppositions—between art and craft, violence and harmony, nature and artifice, figuration and abstraction-radiate a profound and ecumenical power.
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