When you’ve followed an artist’s work for as long as I’ve followed Aaron Parazette’s the first artist you compare him to is himself, and he’s got a lot to live up to. Is his current show at McClain Gallery better than his CAM show in 2004? Yes. Is the new, more mechanical execution OK? Yes. Is the paint application up to his impossibly high standard? Yes. The pieces are even harder, cooler and more distant than before, now that Parazette is making his razor edges with real razors.
The jumbled words Parazette uses as the basis for his compositions are more legible than in 2004, and that’s good, too. If you have heard (and it’s hard not to) that the letters in each painting form a word drawn from surf-lingo, your experience of the paintings is a little like watching Wheel of Fortune: you linger over the pretty colors long enough to puzzle out the mystery phrase, with the checklist of titles as your cheat sheet.
I’ve got no patience for crossword puzzles, so my first guesses were way off: Blinko (eye dazzling), Spring (it was green), Server (cool blue computer architecture), and Design (self-consciously asymmetrical) seemed clear enough, but Sienna was the wrong color, Rocky Neck never quite fit and Cooleh made no sense at all, save it was next to the only painting I got right, Hot.
So I cheated. The correct titles are: Boink, Spinner, Surf Fever, Dealing, Shine, Rock Dance, and Choice. The important thing about this silly exercise is that I didn’t feel bad about my misreading, because neither Parazette nor I really care what the painting says. It’s just a way to divert that part of your mind that needs something verbal to chew on, allowing the real business of voluptuary color ogling a clear field of fire. Parazette has been banging his head against the impossibility of reconciling vision and language since he captioned stripe paintings with emotional phrases like “I was crying when I made this painting” in 1992.
And there’s plenty to ogle. Parazette’s stretched, squashed and rotated letterforms take the most egregious, illegible excesses of print design and re-purpose them as a foil for pure painting. The taut snap and swing of typographic form are an ideal vehicle for dynamic decoration: ten million graffiti writers aren’t wrong. Parazette should bomb some boxcars. It’s the subtleties of design that make some paintings good and some better. Boink is flawless, a fierce ricochet of oddball colors and eye-searing optical effects. Blinko is right. Next come Shine, Rock Dance and Surf Fever, larger, less compressed, lower-key modulations of essentially monochrome fields of blue, black and orange. Their limited range of hues allows the thin contrasting borders maximum mutability, making the paintings trickier, slower, and more subtle.
In his 2004 word paintings Parazette used giant letters like building blocks, seeing them mainly as stripes and arcs, legibility a distant second thought. In this show, he begins to explore the intriguing possibilities of reading as a formal painting device, taking advantage of the way letters have an orientation, letting them usher the eye around the paintings. The connections between word and image are shamelessly literal. Spinner spins, Shine is shiny, Hot is a target with crosshairs. Surf Fever is an undulating medley of cool blues and Rock Dance jiggers up and down like a barefoot surfer crossing a rocky shore.
Most of the words begin, as expected, in the upper right, then surf their way back and forth across the canvas in more or less correct order. Color and shape pull the eye one way, the imperative habit of reading pulls back, adding a new formal dimension to Nth generation geometric abstraction.