Joseph Marioni wants you to look at his paintings and to savor the way he paints them, the way he constructs them. Their thin linen-clad surfaces edge out from the walls like the hulls of shallow boats. These are streamlined, crisp, and attention-getting works with enough diversionary painterly tactics and subliminal effects to make you aware over time that Marioni will get his way with you if you spend the time to look and compare the eleven paintings.
These are monochromatic paintings. But they are monochromes of a particularly high order whose surface sublimities, and references to an objectified universalizing of space, is constantly called into question by the artist. It is Marioni's persistent play of setting up the formalist conventions, the overall gesture, the process, and the slipping of the rug underneath these conventions, in quite elegant and understated ways, which makes this exhibition a delight, as well as an important contribution to current contemporary painting.
The application, for example, of slight tremors of gestural patterns and flattened cascades of drips, subverts the overall austerity of traditional monochromatic work. Process painting is similarly called into question by indicating an obvious contrast between the muted, but deliberately unveiling, edges of the paintings with the various superimposed blankets of color producing the rich overall tonalities, which occupy the principal field of vision at the centers of them.
The exhibition consists of three yellow/ off-yellow paintings near the desk area. These are the more extroverted. The remaining works, the three green paintings, the two blue paintings, the three red paintings, are in the interior of the gallery, and have a deliberately interiorized feel. All of the works were painted this year. Marioni titles his works very simply. Each painting is referred to by its overall color configuration, and is unnumbered. Thus each blue work is called Blue Painting, each red work, Red Painting, etc. This type of off-handedness is quite intentional: over time this generic identification allows you to understand that the word "green"" or "red" or "blue", in light of Marioni's work, is eventually understood and apprehended individually, and on the most intimate terms, through a structure of visual experience, by small and slowed incremental revelations.
As you get to know the paintings, and particularly once you begin to feel the intensity of the colors and the slight variations in each of the similarly colored works, you realize how many different decisions went into making each of these works. Marioni's "aw-shucks" generic coding becomes evidently useless, even for individual identification purposes. Marioni seems to be saying that these paintings may look alike, but spend time, and trust your subjectivity, and revel in it. And so it becomes an enticing adventure to realize that as your eye courses through the colored surfaces, you compare and note, for instance, that your intimate familiarity with their various surfaces allows you to appreciate the small ridges of translucent milky blue paint in one of those small blue works, and how different these small arches of azure drips appear next to the drips that appear in its similarly sized neighbor.
Marioni interjects an almost mandarin-like ceremonial exactitude to the differences that pervade each of these works.
And these small differences become key to one's understanding of how each of the layers of the works were built up; how gestures are insinuated by the gaps and holes and the indentations of paint in the dark black-green of Green Painting, for example. Or you notice the way an unfinished quality at the lower edge of the largest Red Painting is as the artist has left the work: unhemmed, partially clothed, allowing the eye to penetrate as if under a door in order to understand and appreciate the mechanisms of sight.
This artist is a surprise to me. Where did Marioni come from? This is an exhibition that is not be missed, and we should look forward to seeing more of his profound work.
Copyright ©1996 Dominique Nahas & REVIEW All Rights Reserved
Dominique Nahas is former chief curator of contemporary art at Everson Museum and former director of the
Neuberger Museum. He is now an independent curator, critic and art historian.