David Kaiser

at Standard, through February 9

Whereas much abstract art of an earlier era created a unified experience leading to revelation, David Kaiser’s five large paintings at Standard are so wildly varied in materials and effects as to seem purposely sphinxlike. Visually complex and sensually alluring, they invite the eye to wander, pulling the viewer in contrary directions and creating an ecstatically fragmented feeling–a feeling thoroughly suited to our culture of fractured media, ideas, and traditions.

In Network#101501, a latticework of thick white paint on white canvas is covered with many tiny, intricate black and pink shapes resembling flowers or fireworks explosions. Refined enough to suggest that each line was painted individually, these mix symmetry and delicacy to achieve a fragile beauty. The areas of canvas not covered by white paint–which look like the holes in Swiss cheese–contain small, offhand pencil marks. Finally, glass beads so small they’re barely visible are scattered throughout, refracting light and glowing in a way that apparently comments on different ways of seeing. The seemingly random pencil marks make one wonder whether the flower shapes are as precisely executed as they appear.

In fact these shapes were made by dropping black or pink paint onto the white paint while it was still wet; the drops dispersed to create the patterns. (Kaiser tested different paints to choose the look he wanted.) The pencil marks, applied even before the white paint was poured on in its own carefully controlled way, appear to be the least calculated element but are actually the most conventionally made.

The expression “push-pull” is insufficient to capture the variety of experiences Kaiser’s work offers. The delicate patterns seduce while the equally delicate but apparently more random pencil marks undermine them; the glass beads introduce a different kind of light; the poured paint refers to the work’s making and makes one wonder even more about the extent of the artist’s control. Ultimately the object’s melange of effects places the viewer on a path directed less toward revelation than acceptance of variety.

Gem#112101 is an even wilder mix: a latticework of poured pink paint, globs of red paint, and black patterns more diverse than those in Network#101501–not only flowers but more irregular shapes resembling maps of stream-laced terrain and thick areas covered with very fine glitter, which turn into reflective islands. The eye wanders every which way, a bit lost, before noticing similarities. In the show’s brochure, art historian Shane Campbell observes that “small areas within each work are microcosms of the whole painting, not unlike fractal geometry’s recursive nature”; seen from afar the whole composition is not especially expressive, but up close the details give the work meaning.

Kaiser–a 28-year-old Chicagoan raised in Texas–dates his present direction to his first encounter with the “organic architecture” of Bruce Goff and R. Buckminster Fuller while an MFA student at the School of the Art Institute. “Abstraction is often rectilinear in nature,” he says, “and here was this work based on natural geometry that opened all kinds of doors.” He calls these five paintings “very nonformulaic,” also citing “the way hypertext works–this network of things that are related, but not in a linear fashion.” In fact another compelling aspect of the exhibit is the way differences between works function like the elements within each, further confounding the viewer’s expectations. Turbulent#120801, for example, is made only of poured paint, mostly in shades of gray, green, and black. Kaiser controlled the dispersion using such techniques as tipping and blowing on the surface with a hair dryer, producing swirling colors that seem to be exploding, remaining separate like oil and water.

Most unusual is Ambient#112601, made of fake fur to which Kaiser has applied white paint in the manner of hair gel, so that thin towers stick out aggressively. He compares the look to punk hairstyles, and notes that long before he discovered fine art one of his interests was what he calls Texas “punk culture” (“hot rod culture” was another). The complex relief effects of this piece recall trees and their roots; the eye seems to wander amid forestlike patterns of repetition and variation. Like Kaiser’s other works, this one in some ways stumps the viewer–who’s ultimately set free to experience variety and disunity. To older art’s quest for the personal expression of a unified worldview, Kaiser offers a provocative vision of heterogeneity.