“Always for Pleasure,” Patrick Wilson’s show of new work at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, is not about unhinged hedonism, aesthetic or otherwise, though the surfaces have a lushness of color that rewards protracted, non-Twittered viewing. Rather it embodies the reconciliation of opposites, Apollonian (think Mondrian) restraint and Dionysian (think Rothko) exuberance.
The work describes a balance struck between the infinite (the “always” of the title) and the temporal (the “pleasure” of the title). Structurally the work is Mondrianesque. Thin bands of color collate bright geometric shapes on pictorial surfaces that appear first glance as grid-rigid. Shapes seem locked in place, as the four squares in “Bacchus” or the two primary rectangles in “Tide Pool.”
As a whole the show exhorts quantification and precise measurement. A series of eleven panels is called “Calibration.” Read from left to right, each small piece riffs the color spectrum, from red to blue. Five works – “Eleven,” “Twenty-Two,” “Thirty-three,” “Forty-four,” and “Fifty-five” – contain squares that total the number referenced in the title. “Quartet” counterpoises four large squares. Three works, “Coffee Cake” “Pomegranate Glaze (With Black Pepper,” and “Dried Chili/Cashew Nut Chicken” don’t just suggest neatly-arrayed, minimal table settings (table, placemat, plates, cutlery) but also allude to quantities of ingredients for recipes, oven temperatures, et cetera.
But if the work is Apollonian in clarity and articulation it’s offset by touches Dionysian in tenor and feeling. The pivotal piece is “Low Glow.” Stand in front of it and you feel that Rothko shimmer into eternity. A large red rectangle burbles like magma, its tone in imminent and potent, like looking down a soon-to-pop volcano. To the right, though, is a brown rectangle, telluric and grounded. Whereas the red rectangle’s surface is acrylic-smooth, the brown one’s is dimpled. It shows the pimples of the brush stroke. Its texture matches that of the gallery wall and suggests that, while our head might be in the clouds, our feet are firmly planted on the Earth.
That’s the message of the exhibition, pleasure, yes, but in moderation, please. It’s the pleasure achieved via a co-mingling of restraint and exuberance. The work has a grid-like feel to it but the rectilinear shapes are not as anchored as we initially suspected. Sometimes forms overlap, like ale coasters splayed across a square table in an English pub. Sometimes they are governed by Hans Hoffmann’s push-pull: tones of red jump out at us, tones of blue recede away. And black ones are like black holes that consume everything. Nothing is stable, the center cannot hold.
Wilson’s work achieves a dynamic balance struck between infinity and the gallery’s hours of operation. His Weltanschauung incorporates the aesthetic into the social, the metaphysical into the mundane, each work a cosmology in itself. His world is schematic like a blueprint, but it’s got emotion, it’s got room for life. Be it a natural event (the magisterial “Tide Pool”), a social event (the three pieces that reference a communal meal), an emotional event (“Bacchus”), the work is grounded yet quivers with feeling, like the third movement of a Mozart symphony.