Review: Brendan Carroll's Playful Abstractions at Atlanta's Poem 88

A detail of Brendan Carroll's "Windows Walls and Screens (Aye Davanita)," 2013
(Courtesy of the artist and Poem 88)

ATLANTA—From Roy Lichtenstein to James Nares, artists have long fetishized the brushstroke. Atlanta-based Carroll joins that group with medium-size canvases made in 2012 and 2013, at Poem 88 January 11-February 22, in which he attempts to further the modernist tenet of painting that emphasized flatness, color, surface, and gesture. Using oil, latex rubber, and rubber cement, he creates works that emphasize the materiality of paint, where a painting becomes a self-referential object.

With a palette heavy on yellows, browns, and blues, his semi-geometric, multilayered pieces are a study in gestural abstraction, barely able to contain the immense brushstrokes—simultaneously dynamic and controlled—that zigzag across bricklike backgrounds of smaller horizontal strokes.

A recent graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Carroll belongs to a growing group of artists who manipulate the components of paintings by dismantling stretchers to create three-dimensional wall-hung forms or by using the canvas as a sculptural material, not a pictorial surface.

Early examples focus on mark making. In Window Walls and Screens (Porch), 2012, a background of yellow and brown bricks is overlaid with similarly hued forms encroaching from the corners, the whole braced by an indigo boomerang shape in the upper right. 

Works from 2013 begin to have “tears” in thick layers of paint, suggesting messy Lucio Fontana slashes. A newer piece (in the gallery’s back room and not officially a part of the show) is covered with a bunched and crinkly skin of green that seems to be shrinking away from the edges of its support and ripping in the center, as if the canvas were molting.

For all their gestural energy, Carroll’s paintings are not dashed off. Areas that look as if he attacked the surface with a paint scraper were made by his pulling off tape that he’d covered with petroleum jelly so that it would leave jagged edges. What seem to be entirely different paintings lie underneath. It’s when the artist toys with the very concept of painting that his works are the most engaging, and leave one wondering what’s to come next. — Stephanie Cash