Brandon Anschultz's "Pacer" at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis (2012)


Sometimes you have to tear a thing down before you can see it anew. St. Louis-based painter Brandon Anschultz has made a dedicated practice out of this occasional truth, dismantling the constituent elements of painting in order to reinvent them for himself and for the beleaguered medium’s sake. His recent solo exhibit, Pacer, may be the most lyrical synthesis of his deconstructive project to date -- engaging expressionist and procedural approaches to abstraction, impulses toward object-making, and vigorous experimentation with materials and substrates. In plotting out only a spare number of carefully selected pieces in the intimate confines of the Front Room space, a vivid conversation emerges, at once expert and frenetic, in which Anschultz’s anti-subject (painting) is eviscerated in the same breath that it’s remade.

A piece of green-tinted tempered glass sits on the gallery floor and leans against a wall; caddy-corner to it, at traditional viewing height, a stretched canvas hangs. The duo, titled Pink/Green (2012), works as one, each sharing a dimly pastel palette of loose, provisional marks that spread like rashes over their high corner regions, each exchanging complementary notes on notions of opacity and transparency. Across from this pair, at the gallery’s far end, a mass of clay-colored paint with thin strands of copper wire protruding from it, lays on the floor; above it, a copper-colored metal rod straddles the gallery’s top corner ledge, a mass of chartreuse paint dangling from its center. This duo, titled Shark/Green Wad (2012), also works in concert but to more tensile ends: one colored mass seems to threaten the other, playing on the drama of gravity or, alternately, the stealthy freedom of untethered things. Peepshow (2012) is the exhibit’s dark center. Appearing singly on the wall opposite the two diptychs, it hangs as would a conventional painting and appears as such, from a distance. Closer inspection reveals a monochrome abstraction inked on a hunk of crudely-trimmed packing foam, saturated with assorted shades of black that vaguely shimmer (foam of this variety has reflective flecks mixed into it) when it catches light. At once glam and somber, the piece anchors the candy-colored works in its midst, drawing out the formal and emotive seriousness of Anschultz’s project while retaining its signature shine.

What hasn’t been dismantled, here? Paintings move from wall to floor; positive and negative distinctions dissolve or conflate; paint appears on transparent substrates or on none at all; substrates fail to perform -- absorbing wholly the material they’re intended to host. The very status of a painting as a two-dimensional window that has little concern for its status as an object let alone an object in contingent space, is effectively disrupted. Rather, both sculptural and curatorial concerns come necessarily into play: where a piece is placed rewrites how it communicates. In Anschultz’s work, correspondence is key, and irresolution poses not a problem but an opportunity for discourse. Like the exhibit’s title itself, which suggests a person moving back and forth in contemplative rumination, the pieces reverberate off themselves, finishing one another’s sentences in rapid contagion.

The exploration of painting’s materiality is not new for Anschultz. In his 2010 exhibit Stick Around for Joy (2010 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, as part of its annual Kranzberg Exhibition Series), a similar concern for the medium’s overlap with sculpture prevailed. Pieces were sculpted out of plaster, which was then painted; one piece consisted entirely of several years’ worth of paintings ground down to wood chips, appearing as a massive pillar (in a clear plastic trash bag). Pieces also engaged the environmental nature of the exhibition space -- which was once a residence -- and rested on window sills or bore vague resemblances to staircases.

It’s Pacer’s spare and understated confidence that raises it to a new level of conviction in this ferocious quest for reinvention. Like the music from which Anschultz often borrows his titles (Pacer is a 1995 album by the Amps; Peepshow is a 1988 album by Siouxsie and the Banshees), there’s a cool anthemic quality to the rhythms at play in his work and their spacial orchestration. And unlike most formalist projects, something personal emerges from this constant challenging of the medium: the work may unfurl in the rawest of ways, but a meticulous art vigilantly directs the process.

Brandon Anschultz's Pacer was on view at the Front Room of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, March 22 - April 22, 2012. This review was published by Art Papers, July 2012.