Albuquerque/Journal North - Minimalist with Power

Wesley Pulkka
04/07/2003

Teo González has codified Jackson Pollock's drips and dribbles in his collection of 13 mixed-media paintings and several drawings titled "115,717 Black and White" at the Richard Levy Gallery. González is a reductive minimalist who creates grid-based patterns of water droplets on canvas, into which he places various amounts of black acrylic pigment. When the water evaporates the resulting stains that González describes as fossils decorate the surface of the canvas. 

Because there is great variation in the size of the water droplets and the amount of pigment dropped into their centers, what began as a straight-line grid becomes distorted and filled with wavy lines.

The surface becomes an organic arena filled with odd shapes and ascending and descending values. González revisits a random, almost accidental quality found in works by Pollock, who poured and dripped color onto floor-based canvases while perched on a stepladder. González uses a bridge that allows him to hover over the horizontal surface and drop water and pigment where he may. His bridge is much like the mahlsticks used by realist oil painters to rest their hands over the wet surface. In the often arcane world of contemporary art, mark making has been a subject of interest. A few years ago SITE Santa Fe presented "Post Mark," an exhibition designed in part to illustrate how some artists have transcended the need for handmade marks -as if Duchamp's "ready-mades" hadn't already covered that ground.

Cutting-edge contemporary artists have no need for the "final lick of the brush" that smoothed away uneven pigments in 19th-century European portrait salons.

González allows the nature of water and its dispersant and evaporative qualities to determine the final mark on the canvas. He apparently uses filaments of various gauges as tools to drop water or pigment onto the surface.

At 6 by 6 feet, "Untitled #246 (17,424 Black on White 66 Gauge)" is the largest work in the show. The large scale allows viewers to lose themselves in a tonal field that offers visual play between shapes, pigment intensity and figure ground spatial relationships.

For those who don't accept reductive minimalism, the experience could be as exciting as watching paint dry. The proof that magic exists in these works is that many collectors are willing to buy them.

I was feeling the effects of recent surgery the day I walked into González's world. My impulse was to cop an attitude and dismiss his efforts as another minimalist wallpaper show. But I persevered and found them analogous to looking very closely at George Seurat's pointillism. Seurat described himself as a scientist who depended on the human eye to blend his little dots of color.

I also was reminded of the benday screens covered in symmetrical patterns of small dots used to create tones in commercial graphics.

Agnes Martin uses straight lines, grids and stripes to express abstract emotions. Her friend Karen Yank once described the experience of abstract emotion as the way a mountain makes you feel.  Though I don't want to make a mountain out of González's fossilized molehills of evaporated water, his work does have some of the contemplative power of a Martin painting.

There also is a lot of restrained action embodied in these works. "Untitled #232 (14,400 black 10 Gauge)" is a black-on-black painting that glitters. The pigment is pulled from the surface creating tiny reflective peaks that catch light like a black sequined evening gown.

I once saw some burnt wood sculptures at the Kathleen Shields Gallery that were created by using sunlight and a magnifying glass. Knowing how they were done suddenly made those little pieces of wood very interesting.

González has created a fascinating process.