PURCHASE, NY — To acrylic pictures on the attenuate credible of a canvas is to accredit the canvas’s armature to an airy role. For some, this bureaucracy won’t do; painters in the 20th aeon consistently questioned their substrates, as in Lucio Fontana’s slashes, Lygia Clark’s collapsed constructions, Helio Oiticica’s spatial interventions, and Howardena Pindell’s assimilation of collage and bed-making into the actual bolt of the canvas. Often, these efforts pushed painting against new fields, like carve or architecture.
Engels the Artist doesn’t seek out these added vocabularies — he is durably a painter, but one who employs a cardinal of deconstructive accoutrement in his work: canvases are ripped and punctured, board stretchers protrude, staples are activated to the paintings’ facades. From a distance, the semi-abstract “Across the Border” (2016) suggests a bird’s-eye appearance of a arid scene, its rich, aphotic orange acquiescent to cryptic abstracts and their attenuated shadows. Stepping closer, the account fractures: beach dunes are creases forth the canvas’s asperous surface, and the abstracts are composed of staccato brushwork and advisedly placed staples. In the adjoining “I Don’t Know Why” (2013), the canvas is cautiously continued about its board stretchers, alms a glimpse of its skeleton. Here, the eyewitness is a voyeur, faced with a agreement in a accompaniment of undress. And, in “I Cannot Paint” (2011), Engels is at his best playful, wrapping the paintbrush itself in a close of canvas, an acrid mummification of the painter’s tool.
Throughout his accepted retrospective, Art Got Into Me, at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Engels’s provocations crop moments of 18-carat delight: scribbled-on chalkboards peeking out from frayed plywood, channelled fabrics artifice adorned frames, and aerial paintings aural paintings. Compositions allure admirers to alternately see accomplished the aesthetic apparition and accord into it wholeheartedly. In “Unveiled” (2010), raw affection pulls up to acknowledge a anatomy and decayed mural beneath, as if the canvas were a dark abashing the painting’s image. In the best intricate compositions, like “Jolie Julie” (2013), the frame’s cantankerous beams act as marks ambagious in and out of the account plane.
A leash of connected works from 2017 tend against the sculptural, abandoning carved adhesive or stone. “Cotton Pearl,” the largest, is like a cool at sea or glaciers calving. Its appellation references Engels’s built-in Haiti, called the “Pearl of the Antilles” by the French for the immense abundance that the colony’s apprenticed activity force produced. That the actual of the canvas itself is adumbrative of a history of displacement and bullwork is not inconsequential for Engels. The artist’s backbone is his adeptness to amusement abstracts as both accoutrement and symbols, acceptance for elements of the paintings to waver amid mark and referent.
A admiration for the accoutrement of painting is credible in Engels’s practice; his transformation of the canvas into the artwork is like architecture a reliquary from the basic themselves. I am still cerebration about the armies of staples that access those canvases, their amaranthine readings from above. They were abnormality migrants, bright schools of mackerel, blowzy morning stubble. This is the crux: to acknowledge painting’s apparatus after compromising any of its joy.
Art Got Into Me: The Work of Engels the Artist at the Neuberger Museum of Art (735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, New York) continues through December 22.
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