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The Houston School of New Abstract Painting

Houston was the place, or certainly a place, to be for abstract painters in the early nineties. Of the union of successful artists that met there and at the Museum of Fine Arts Core Program, three have mid-career solo exhibitions in Chelsea this spring. All were within walking distance: Jeff Elrod: New Paintings at Fredericks Freiser Gallery (536 W 24th), Susie Rosmarin at Danese Gallery (535 W 24th), and Aaron Parazette: All on Up at Marlborough Chelsea (211 W 19th).

Jeff Elrod...Save, 2006...acrylic on canvas... 36 x 30 inches...

Opening March 2 and extended through April 22, Jeff Elrod exhibited eight new paintings that pulsed with fresh energy. The evolution of his work has done much to track the introduction, effluence and assimilation of computer practices in art. Elrod’s earlier paintings culled imagery from obsolete video games, but was quick to adopt primitive versions of paint software to develop a method of “frictionless paintings,” — drawings drafted with a computer and mouse. The drawings, composed of rapid expressive lines and abstract shapes, are then projected onto the canvas and seamlessly executed to mimic their digital conception.

Susie Rosmarin...(#341) Dark Galaxy Stud, 2005...acrylic on canvas...20 x 20 inches

Elrod has consistently intended to remain a step behind the technological curve by using outdated software, and in a culture of rapidly eclipsing technologies this manifests as a distinctly dated aesthetic. In Elrod’s new paintings, all completed in 2006, the rudimentary tools of Microsoft Paint are wed to the digital developments of more recent software, including a grey and white checked pattern that recalls an Adobe Illustrator transparency grid.

Absent from any painting, however, is the use of computer fonts. In Save (2006), an ambiguous foreground of white, yellow and red is interrupted by manic extemporaneous lines exposed in raw canvas. In the top left corner the word ‘save’ is awkwardly scrawled in crude letters — indicative of the futility in using a mouse for handwriting. More interestingly, the word itself comments on the duality of human and digital definitions: either to rescue something or someone, or simply a software command to store a file.

The paintings in Susie Rosmarin’s latest exhibition at Danese are both stunning and likely to induce acute optical over-stimulation. Subscribing to Warhol’s apothegm “I want to be a machine,” the Spartan paintings scarcely evince any human intervention. And yet, they are indeed invested with a profound response to human content. A decorative gingham textile, or childhood memory, is expressed by the meticulous needling of algorithmic matrices, becoming a galaxy of complex weaving. In (#341) Dark Galaxy Study (2005), the central deep-blue vortex is intersected by vertical and diagonal lines of red, pink and yellow gradients. The combination of incredible colors and frightening precision is dizzying.

Susie Rosmarin...Box #1, 2006...acrylic on plywood...20 x 20 x 20 inches

Among the suite of paintings was the lone sculpture Box #1 (2006), a twenty inch cube, in a nod to forebear Sol LeWitt, resting on the floor beneath the Danese skylights. The cube, similar to the paintings, is embellished with intricate lattice patterns of pink, green and blue. Surprisingly, after close inspection it becomes noticeable that the columns on one plane should intersect with those on the adjoining side, but inexplicably they do not. This potentially deliberate miscalculation is a breath of fresh air in the otherwise immaculately crafted exhibition.

Aaron Parazette...Kooks, 2006...acrylic on cavas...64 x 72 inches

Opening a few weeks later than the preceding exhibitions, Aaron Parazette’s All On Up exhibition at Marlborough Chelsea is made up of a dozen large-scale acrylic paintings that disarray the letters of surfer jargon. The artist, originally from Southern California, takes the vernacular of an often-referenced subculture and arranges the letters into architectural compositions pristinely executed in bold colors.

In his revisiting of the word “Kook”, an idiom to describe an amateur surfer, or more pointedly one that gets in the way, Kooks (2006) rebels against the former painting Kook (2004)in its lack of cheerful color or playful composition. Gone are the cute partnered O’s in sunny tones, and in its place a pile of maudlin letters stacked above an all-encompassing S, the letter that makes this word plural. Instantly the word multiplies into a deluge of armatures crowding the waves. Or, as Carol Vogel recently observed of art dealing practices in the New York Times, crowding the walls.

Images courtesy of the artists and Fredericks Freiser Gallery, Danese Gallery, and Marlborough Gallery.

Vanessa Michel is an artist and writer who lives in New York and works for Artforum Magazine.

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