INSTANTS EVER PRESENT
by Paul D'Agostino
Christopher Rico's most recent paintings constitute an arresting suite of a dozen very curiously abstract, non-representational works expressing notions of the sweeping vastness of time, the great depths of space, and the enduring mystery and boundless beauty of physical matter as it shifts and drifts within them. Somewhere in the midst of Rico's temporal and spatial sphere is where we find ourselves not only, in this immediate context, as viewers of his artworks, but also, in a broader sense, as inhabitants of our planet.
Rico's works are abstract, sure, and non-representational, sure — yet perhaps only to a certain extent. As we might assert about much art in general, his paintings also document, and in an expansive sense are the object-traces of, certain points in time and space. In his case, by way of repeated iterations of layering and removal of painting media, primarily inks and acrylics on canvas or linen — applied from above to surfaces on the floor, indeed from atop a ladder, with variably large-brush type implements — he captures, in the images his process yields, moments in which the stratified mergings, dissolutions and dispersions of his operative media ultimately congeal. These are thus the very instants in which the materials he adds, subtracts and manipulates resolve as fixed surfaces, composed forms, settled images. As such, although we might acceptably describe what we see as abstract, and though we might plausibly say that these images don't readily represent anything specific, the underlying truth of the works harbors evidence, in fact, of the inverse. That is, the specific thing each work represents is a procedural instant of material resolution.
If we consider Rico's works in this light, we can only really use the word 'abstract' to describe or categorize them if we are also willing to call an instant itself, or time itself, abstract. We very well could, of course, since we often do anyway, more or less, by call it a 'construct,' 'fabrication' or 'invention.' Yet even so, that still leaves us with something along the lines of the following equation: fixed abstract representations of certain abstract instants. A semantic simplification of the same would then allow for the 'abstracts' to factor each other out, leaving us with 'fixed representations of certain instants' to describe Rico's new works. There is surely a degree of critical convenience in queuing up multiple axioms to substantiate the notion that his new paintings, albeit patently abstract, are also representing, or re-present-ing, something, that ‘something’ being a past moment. So maybe they're not so patently abstract. Maybe something is represented therein. To be sure, something related to this idea of relative abstraction is part of what imbues Rico's paintings with such rich visual allure.
There's another crucial point of intrigue in this notion of visual allure. It's one that might even force us to question anew what we're thinking in terms of 'questionable' abstraction. And it's very simple, no equations necessary: To what extent are these paintings truly fixed? On the level of image, Rico's new works seem to shift and morph before our eyes. Swirls of liquid materials seem to continue to slowly flow; pools, drips and splatters seem to gradually spread. Earthily bronze, striated backdrops appear to scintillate ever so slightly as they are interrupted by deep blacks, white specks, convergent greys, sometimes registering as geographical features that result from deeper geological forces — forces that, as far as we know, and even if their shifting or morphing is extremely slow, never really come to a full stop.
Beholding works such as "Ashkelon," "Calakmul" and "Uruk," we might begin to see geyser-like formations, puddles of pitch, oozes of oil, smears of somehow beautifully darkened muds, carbon deposits. "Ceremony I," "Ceremony II" and "Ceremony III," a set of works whose dominant forms are reflective and reciprocal of one another — forms that, when the paintings are viewed in variable sequential ways, seem also to feed into and drift away from one another — manifest as active features extracted from the same landscape, one to which our planet may or may not be home. Given their greater scale, two larger works, "Dwarka" and "Kition," are at once more transporting and subtly imposing. Here, we feel lured into exploring the internal mysteries of ambiguous forms that confront us head-on. Indeed, given the shapes and compositional positions of certain masses at such scale, we might even feel that the forms before us are mysteriously figural.
Plenty of other forms and apparitions might factor into one's experience with viewing Rico's works. Vague visages, otherworldly bodies, and strange types of flora and fauna might begin to emerge. Regardless of what one glimpses in these paintings, what remains true about them is that they resist being 'seen' in full. They reward the long look, the long gaze, the long view. Moreover, given the many ways in which their ostensibly simple constituent forms and surfaces are in fact brimming and churning with mesmerizing complexities, the works never look quite the same twice. Yet another element of their unfixed fixity is this ever-variant aspect of our subsequent viewings.
Rico's new paintings call abstraction into question. They warp notions of time by portraying it as instants and as depths immemorial. They are stable as objects, yet as images they appear always a bit different, always harboring some other detail or formal nuance not glimpsed before. All such matters of optics and aesthetics are surely, somehow, part and parcel of what furnishes these works with such endless visual grip and allure.
Paul D'Agostino is visual artist and freelance writer, editor, curator, educator and translator (English, Italian, German, Spanish, French, and some work in Portuguese and Dutch). Founder and director of Centotto Gallery, established in Brooklyn, NYC, in 2008, now operating at large.
Ph.D. in Italian Literature, M.A. in Italian Literature, B.A. with double major (summa cum laude, with honors, Phi Beta Kappa) in International Studies and Italian Language and Literature. Adjunct instructor of language, literature, cultural studies, studio art, critical thinking and writing courses at institutions including Parsons The New School for Design, The New York Studio School, CUNY Brooklyn College, Fordham University and Rutgers University.
Assistant Editor of Journal of Italian Translation. Former Art Editor at Brooklyn Magazine and The L Magazine.