Mike Childs: The Journey: Grids, Color and Curvilinear forms, 2004 to 2020
New York CityDavid Richard Gallery
June 5 – July 17, 2020
Toronto-born and South Bronx-based Mike Childs has been working in New York since 1995. In this exhibition, 28 paintings from the last 16 years are presented, revealing a constant and evolving exploration of how humans negotiate their surrounding modularly built, urban environment. Patterns and contiguous space interface, interlace, and proliferate like so many passing surfaces and colors, changing with the passage of time or the panorama of a gaze. Walls, graffiti, signage, and bridges of the Bronx all began to fold into the flux of Childs’s images during his time living in the neighborhood. The paintings are committedly non-objective, use geometry and color to explore compositional possibilities, but evoke Childs’s experiential surroundings, not literally, but rather through abstract, pictorial themes.
My German Friend (2012), one of the larger-scale paintings here at 50 × 62 inches, comprises a shifting aggregate of colored surface and tessellated forms, grouped around a central divide of vertical grey and green that bisects two contrasting geometric zones that recall the façades of modernist or project buildings, their windows, and balconies. The composite nature of the image conflates pictorially what we do with memory or thought, moving back and forth spatially and temporally, a mnemonic montaging sometimes consciously directed, most times not—this is the true quality of our ongoing experience: fractured, fluid, split. The acrylic and spray painted yellows, greens, blues, and greys produce optically a muted yet crisp, at turns faded, illumination in the city with electric lights or overcast skies and pockets of green, an organic foil of trees to concrete and synthetic clad sides of buildings. Particularly in the ochre yellows to the left and the green and green blues to the right, a movement of rounded shapes occurs in the close tones and turning curves.
Animal Behavior F (2017), again acrylic and spray paint, evinces a different range of color; its hexagonal patterning, like a screen or honeycomb, also appears in other paintings from this series. Dark reddish-pink panels on either side of the patterned area partially frame it to create an opening, like a window or gap between separate structures. There is the use of stenciled shapes, improvised playfully yet effective, gesture toward a tight and specific composition. There are no unconsidered areas: Transparencies, allowing a priori shape and color to remain visible after subsequent layers have been added, are striking in the left side of the dark pink. Within the hexagonal shapes other compositions can be seen: segments, independently balanced and self-sufficient, accumulating so many contiguous thoughts, one different from, though no less important than, the other. Animal Behavior G (2017) further combines the series’ vocabulary, reorienting the composition so that frontal and topographic are spliced together in a kindred conceptual strategy.
In Childs’s paintings, an object is not simply fractured to recombine in splintered parts. Childs implies a frontal view that has taken a walk around the object; he then puts the different views together, and this completely mobile point of view, one that includes other elements of closeness and distance, is inserted into the composition. The paintings bring to mind the work of Gary Stephan, that great progenitor of very real but impossible realities, who creates another place only possible in painting, and perfectly suited to it, one that is still unsurpassable in other media—factual, static surfaces that confound and move, conceptually and optically in all the ways we have to gauge and engage the world. Childs moves successfully along this same path, too.