Michael Rado: Show Your Work
On ViewArt Cake
March 19 – April 17, 2022
Michael Rado wants you to know how the fabulous works on the walls of his exhibition at Art Cake were made. He wants you to know so that you can trace the progress and appreciate the choices that organize multiple fields of information into singular compositions. This is a pleasurable exercise. Even though all of the works are built using the same system, they each yield a unique and unexpected surface that teems with photographic detail.
The body of work is called “Dynamic Symmetry,” after the mathematic ratio defined by Jay Hambridge. The ratio itself relies on “dynamic rectangles” as its base, and from there lines are added that create intersections of clear and equal proportions. Hambridge used the system to divvy up landscapes. He buried his lines beneath his pictures. Rado does the opposite. He places the geometric armature right on top and the result is that your eye never rests; it follows one line to another, pausing intermittently at the photographic moments that occur only as fragments of themselves.
The photographs Rado has carefully collaged throughout each piece come from old National Geographic magazines. There are themes: in one work images of birds predominate, in another it’s eyes, in another it’s columns, or people pointing. There are eleven of these works, in varying size, and the repetition of imagery works well with the clarity of Rado’s geometric plotting. His choice of Nat Geo as source material has conceptual underpinnings too, insofar as the magazine symbolized a type of access or understanding of the world. By cutting it up and introducing a new system of organization, Rado playfully undermines the grandiosity of vision at stake in any project that presumes order over natural phenomena.
The surface texture of Rado’s work is notable. It is smoother than you’d expect, almost burnished to a sheen, but then the artist disrupts this refined flatness with gestural brushwork. Frankly, it’s thrilling. After all the fastidiousness of his process, there comes a moment where a little freewheeling happens, and that loosens up the composition. His choice of color is keyed to the hues in the photographs he’s selected, as in Sunrise, Sunset or Columns (both 2022), where the washy paint almost made me think the photos were leaking. I was quite taken by On Black (2022). At first I thought it was because the paint application was particularly good: fat glossy caterpillars of paint on top and washy areas at one edge. But that wasn’t it. It was the decision the artist made to not complete the symmetry. By not following through with the rigid geometric framework the artist introduced a tension between what seemed to be in control and what did not. Of course this is an illusion; Rado is in complete control at all times. But the feel of that division is profound, like visiting a well-tended garden on the edge of an old forest.
One detail I haven’t acknowledged: Rado’s lines are scored into the surfaces of his works. This produces an interesting effect because it is a line defined by what it dissects. Unlike the collage elements or the addition of paint, Rado isn’t adding another material but making extremely precise incisions that both delineate the areas in which image and paint will occur as well as cut right through those same zones. Consequently, Rado’s blade starts to feel like a primary metaphor in this body of work in so far as it organizes and then reorganizes the topography of the paintings.
Rado created these paintings during his residency at Art Cake. His studio is nearby the exhibition room. On occasion the doors are open and visitors can peek at work in progress, which gives the experience of visiting Art Cake a creative energy and a communal character. There’s great warmth to the place, and surely that contributes to the inspiration of the artists who work there.