Robert C. Jones and Cable Griffith both offer works with an optimistic outlook at G. Gibson Gallery.
The two painters share an affinity for the grid, a visible framework that serves as an armature for their inventions, and both make frequent references to landscape. Equally notable, both painters share the sort of positive, utopian spirit that animated the pioneer abstractionists in the period before Jackson Pollock and his colleagues conjured forth darker and more conflicted forces in the service of nonobjective art. Griffith and Jones see painting as a means to create a world that is more poetic and uplifting than our own.
There certainly isn’t any underlying anxiety or unrest in the Griffith painting “Plein@ir 1.4 (Wenatchee).” Based on aerial views of an imaginary landscape that is a recurring Griffith image, the various trees, hills, roads and structures have been pared down to graphic, thickly painted dashes, curves, blocks and chevrons. The background is stained a deep red violet, overpainted with a sunset palette of dark blues, greens, purples and maroons. A bull’s-eye, blue-white sun glows from the exact center of the piece. Like most of Griffith’s work, “Plein@air 1.4” takes visual cues from video games, computer graphics, signage and technical diagrams, all put to the service of a rhythmic, musical structure.
Not all the newest paintings, which combine loose, dyed backgrounds with tight, linear foregrounds, are successful, but three more familiar-looking works — moody close-ups of a highly stylized, deeply spatial forest — show off what Griffith has always done best, engineering a shotgun marriage of the painterly and the pixelated.
I doubt if Griffith was specifically aware of Jones’ lyrical painting “Midsummer” when he was layering his grids on top of his dyes, but the similarity of artistic concept is striking. Like Griffith, Jones is fascinated with the creative tension between the organic and the imposed. In “Midsummer,” scrubbed-in, vaguely-defined blobs flow across the canvas, their colors suggestive of growth, sky and warmth, including a somewhat alarming pink that pops up throughout the show. Attempting to contain these swirling clouds of paint, a broken-up, skinny black grid has been layered on top, appearing not quite up to its task, like a rickety fence being taken over by blackberries.
In other Jones paintings on view, simple, geometric forms — ovals, circles and squares — swim in a sea of heavily worked, textured, scraped and impastoed paint. A tug of war ensues between these energetic and complicated surfaces — the artist’s process made visible — and more restful areas of flat, vivid color. I’m reminded of ancient, encrusted walls I saw in Rome, seeming to record lost histories in pitted plaster and overlapping shards of color. Like those mute, mysterious walls, Jones leaves it up to the viewer to interpret the message of his open-ended works, with titles either missing or enigmatic; “Midsummer” being an exception.
Abstraction is a movement that has been described as past its prime. In this exhibition, two accomplished painters, with the senior Jones and the younger Griffith separated by almost 45 years, demonstrate that the possibilities of nonliteral imagery are far from being exhausted.