Visual Arts Back when minimalism was a statement of sorts, an in-your-face gesture on the part of some artists who sought to strip bare the conventions of academic art and its inherent formalism, it was hip to be spare. Nowadays, abstract artists can be considered formalists; abstraction is an institution, taught in art schools and considered mainstream. Work by Jon Manteau is currently on view at J. Martin Gallery. In the realm of painting, then, what’s an artist to do, if he or she wants to challenge the norm? When it’s not about content in the political or imagistic sense, it’s about medium. Jon Manteau, an artist from back East who has been on the J. Martin Gallery roster pretty much since its beginnings four years or so ago, experimented early on with graffiti art, a past he may not necessarily reject, but one from which he has certainly departed. In a home-town Philadelphia article on citypaper.net, Manteau is quoted as saying, “If they can get kids interested in art directly without really having to go through graffiti, why not? It’s healthier.” The “they” is whoever gets kids interested in art to begin with — and that, most likely, is the vast territory of popular culture role models, of which visual artists are admittedly a sparse subset. In any event, Manteau continues to experiment, as he did in his younger years — employing legal means of artmaking these days. In the case of his current exhibition at J. Martin Gallery, Like Mudbugs on A Griddle (for all intents and purposes), Manteau experiments with house paint — a faint but perceptible nod to the appropriation of spray paint for decoration of subway tunnels. (Since there are no subway walls to be found in these parts, today’s aspiring graffiti artists must resort to the backs of buildings accessed through alleys — one of which is situated behind my house, right behind the fence where we keep our compost). Manteau makes less of a statement now than an affirmation, a more pronounced nod towards the formalist conventions of what he calls “post-post painterly abstraction,” or “post neo-abstraction.” If you have a hard time following the notion of post-anything, you’re not alone. Post-modernism has become post-post-modernism. What does it mean? In my view, it only means something if it can be linked to an artist’s intentions to communicate meaningfully. Manteau, it would seem, attempts to do so — clearly he enjoys his controlled and yet robust painterly gestures. His titles give us clue to what lurks in his communicative, popular-culture attuned psyche: “Very Barney,” for instance, only suggests the purple dinosaur by way of a band of purple paint at the lower end of the small vertical painting. And “Like a Spalding Basketball” is likewise a tongue-in-cheek visual gesture, with an area of orange punctuated with black swipes of paint. Larger paintings are perhaps less intriguing from a loveliness standpoint but more meaty from a “love of the medium” point of view. “When it comes right down to it,” Manteau writes in his artist’s statement, “I’m a painter.” Whether or not he employs house paint to embellish a plywood board, suggesting igneous, glassy rocks atop a color field backdrop or a mirror (the actual title of one of his paintings), Manteau paints with joy, and he wants us to revel in it. Or to put it another way, there’s a difference between heartless minimalism and the thoughtful kind. Manteau’s is the latter. It’s an invitation worth accepting. Jon Manteau: Like Mudbugs on A Griddle (for all intents and purposes) closes this weekend at J. Martin Gallery, 874 Virginia Ave., 916-2874, www.jmartingallery.com.

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