James Siena has had what might be called a linear career. Whether painted, drawn or sculpted, his work is purely line-based. Yet his art always avoids the shortest distance between two points; i.e. the simple straight line. Instead he has continued to evolve work based on what he calls “a visual algorithm,” creating recursive labyrinthine canvases; intense but relatively small-scale repetitive patterns painted in enamel on aluminum.
For his latest show at Pace Gallery, the artist has diverged from his usual practice to produce a new body of work that significantly expands his singular vision. By switching from enamel on aluminum to acrylic on canvas, and enlarging the pieces’ scale, he has introduced a painterly level to his linear abstractions. The resulting pieces resemble topographical maps — or very complex iterations of an ultrasonic ripple effect. They visually reverberate.
At first glance, these ambitious elaborations on his trademark trope look like a cross between aboriginal art and the intricate circuitry of microchips; a seductive synthesis of atavistic and futuristic. But on closer examination, the viewer’s gaze becomes lost in the individual marks that make up each painting’s hypnotic visual mesh.
Whether monochromatic or in several complementary colors, whether thick or thin, the elastic, endlessly-repeated, carefully-executed ribbons of paint (first outlined in charcoal or graphite), produce varying optical affects. Some look like the whorls in a tree trunk’s cross-section, others like a circulatory system, still others like cobwebs, or a river’s tributaries.
In Hexscilloid (2018), the canvas seems to be divided into six sections, four of which have window-like rectilinear patterns within patterns. At a distance, the painting can look like a sophisticated textile design. But closer up, the obsessive attention to kaleidoscopic detail — within each window-shaped pattern, for instance, there are still other repeating patterns — is almost hallucinogenic.
Hexscilloid is one of four canvases with convoluted alternating color motifs that are nearly overwhelming, like a puzzle or maze that can’t be solved. The remaining seven of the eleven pieces in the show are monochromatic, and their relative simplicity embues them with a comparatively soothing visual elegance. . .
To read the rest of Hoban’s review, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/james-siena-painting/
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