For contemporary painter Jordan Wolfson the meaning of painting lies in the unseen. “The intertwined relationship between a two-dimensional surface and its three-dimensional experience gives rise to a third thing, which is not a thing, and not even visible – and that is presence. Presence is the real power and deepest purpose of painting,” states Wolfson.
Wolfson’s engagement with presence has led his work on a trajectory that is on the one-hand traditional, in dialogue with the modernist projects of Morandi, Giacometti and tracing back to Cezanne. Wolfson sees his work as an extension of the Cezannian dialectic of a subjective response to the objective world through an engagement with perception. On the other hand, his interest in presence has led to a post-stylistic juxtaposition of methodology, bringing radically differing modalities of representation up against each other as a means of circumventing the solidification of appearances, inviting a kind of slippage in the viewer’s sense of being. Through his phenomenological approach to subject matter – the figures, interiors and still lifes — Wolfson draws unexpected connections to artists as divergent as Agnes Martin and Robert Irwin. Henry Geldzahler described Wolfson’s work, while still a young painter, as a cross between Lucian Freud and the Shekhinah [the kabbalistic aspect of divine immanence], succinctly capturing the sense of spirit and charged presence Wolfson finds in daily situations, in the mundane and physical.
The work is highly iterative, unfolding as a series seeking to chart Wolfson’s modulations of perception. Each articulation of the given motif is a reinvestigation into a condition or state of being. The focus of inquiry with each piece may shift from an emphasis on form to one on space or light. While the work itself is made and can be viewed over time as a sequence, the various states are understood by Wolfson to occur simultaneously, not unlike different radio frequencies, all emanating from the same physical situation. Within a given series, a work such as Studio Interior with Red Bucket IV provides the viewer with a tonal orientation of the motif. While the subtle and poetic tonality provides a normative sense of representation, Wolfson’s vectoral attitude of mark-making within each painting gives a forceful tactility and kinesthetic approach to the form and space, as if the air suddenly adjusts to a hidden and latent viscosity. The sense of space having structure and apprehensive availability becomes intensified in a work like Studio Interior with Red Bucket III, where the headlong grappling with space becomes a flurry of yellow marks, overwhelming the remnants of recognizable form. The intense yet slightly shifting yellows maintain the interior’s spatial structure, as Wolfson tightropes between chaos and order.
Drawing pervades Wolfson’s overall oeuvre. Functioning less as preliminary studies for paintings than as works in their own right, the drawings perform as vigorous forays into each situation, allowing for direct discoveries and responses. The energy of the mark ranges from a fierce velocity to a quiet, almost tender kind of searching. When a figure is introduced into the interior it fundamentally changes the experience of the space, bringing with it the possibility of being faced, of mutuality, even intimacy. In some of his other figurative works, as in Woman Reclining, where the figure dominates the painting, the increased size of the figure gives one a sense of having moved into shared space, raising the question of how desire changes the calculus in Wolfson’s painting.
While conceptually rigorous Wolfson’s work never evades the demands of the aesthetic dimension. The paintings are luscious and well wrought. The aesthetic for Wolfson functions as a prerequisite for bringing the viewer into an actual experience, in which intellection becomes felt and the visual situation necessary. Wolfson’s paintings are powerful ontological inquiries that wield beauty as a gateway to being.
A two-person exhibition of Wolfson’s work, along with the work of artist Bruce Samuelson, will be on display at the J. Cacciola Gallery in New York City, opening December 10th, 2013. The J. Cacciola Gallery is located at 537 W. 23rd Street in Chelsea between 10th and 11th Avenue. An artists’ reception will be held on Saturday, December 14th, 4-6pm. The work is on view until January 4th, 2014.
Jordan Wolfson was born in 1960 and raised in Los Angeles. He received his MFA from Yale University in 1991, after studying under William Bailey, Mel Bochner, Natalie Charkow, Andrew Forge, and John Walker. Wolfson is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, the Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant and a purchase award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. After living abroad in Israel for ten years Wolfson returned to the United States in 2002. He has exhibited extensively throughout the United States and abroad and currently resides in Louisville, Colorado.