Untitled, 2008, 16mm anamorphic film by Megan Fraser, Tour d’Ombres, 2007, Bell Howell projector, looper, laserjet print on 8 ½ x 11 inch paperBlake Rayne’s exhibition revolves around a number of paintings, each of which results from a standard operation of construction. Rayne unfolds, primes, folds and directs an aerosol spray of pigment onto a roll of linen from which sections are then chosen, sewn and cropped into a consistent scale. Rayne’s paintings, which situate themselves between a history of reflexive material procedures and structures of linguistic description, produce the canvas as a site of conflict between an impossible autonomy and a dispersed referentiality. If Rayne doubles the readymade weave of his canvas in a textile patterning, one whose folding and merging he chromatically designates, then these paintings are also textualized as scripts of production: displacing material process into the flat, graphic space of linguistic signs. (Indeed, one might be forgiven for perceiving the spatial structure of distorted majuscules as a result of the folding process through which the paintings are produced.)
Displayed alongside these canvases are the crates in which they were shipped. The latter, hung on the walls along side their supposed content, are cast as the gestural co-presence of painting’s movement from studio, to display, to storage. During the exhibition Rayne will extend the weft which binds his particular type of textile/textual processes, reaching from the material sign of “painting” to yet another container: the gallery will be closed for a set duration of the exhibition, to be re-opened for its final four weeks.
The logic of painterly abstraction which Rayne deploys, thus extended into a gesture of folding – of closing and re-opening – the gallery, weaves container and contained in an imbricated and inextricable relationship: one structuring the other according to the un-sutured fabric of cultural abstraction. Neighborhood gentrification, that which envelopes the gallery as a specific sort of place in a specific time, could be a potentially enfolded element, its cycles and un-even developments closing and opening to certain classes of people and certain types of investment. Far from neutrally designating these cycles, Rayne claims the title of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, as an emblematic textual element, inscribing a stance onto canvas positioned to one side of the line demarcated by his folds. Rayne describes the novel as illustrating “a moment at which a certain class reflexively discovers the hollowness of the conventions and means of self-representation upon which it is founded, just at the moment before the depression,” and this seems topical enough with Bear Sterns throwing-in the devalued chips that they had so recklessly invested in the sub-prime mortgage debacle. It is that other side, relative to but definitely not paradise, which appears in Rayne’s work as the breakdown of historical projects of painterly abstraction. But this reiteration of breakdown comes latent with new conditions for work to be done, ones which Rayne suggests urgently need to be unfolded.
Blake Rayne’s looming new show is very full and very good. The large-scale paintings look like Pattern & Decoration crossed with fabric design, geometric abstraction, and Russian folk art. Near the paintings—which are hung cheek-by-jowl, salon style—are dark-brown wooden rectangles. At first these come off as comments on the wood-paneled rooms of the gilded age and seem to echo the rampant gentrification of the Lower East Side. They turn out to be packing crates for the paintings. This turns the actual artworks into something like transient or displaced visitors—personalities that you connect to. This is Rayne’s clearest, most optically satisfying show in some time.
For theoretically inclined painter Blake Rayne, self-reflexivity is something of a contact sport. In this lucid and lively show, Rayne puts painting up against two heavyweight Conceptualist strategies: process art as practiced by such artists as Robert Ryman, and the institutional critique of Daniel Buren and his successors. The canvases—produced, like Rayne’s earlier work, according to predetermined steps—have undeniable visual punch. Here, using a technique borrowed from Simon Hantaï (an artist much admired by Buren), Rayne folds pieces of primed linen, spray paints the exposed surfaces and cuts the material into strips, which are sewn together. The results, executed in muted ochres, purples and blue-greens, are reminiscent of typography, tribal textiles and early Ellsworth Kelly. Each painting is customized, sometimes with just a drip of paint, other times with high-modernist quotations—an Art Deco numeral five in one work, for example, references both Charles Demuth’s The Figure 5 in Gold and e.e. cummings’s Is 5. Rayne situates these paintings in an economic, cultural and temporal context by staining and hanging the work’s shipping crates like paneling, moving the gallery office to the center of the space and including a film from the previous exhibition here. The show’s most intriguing element is a vintage photograph depicting a bicycle retrofitted as a stationary machine for sharpening knives. Its message seems unmistakable: In repurposing painting to Conceptual ends, Rayne suspends the modernist ideal of forward progress, even as he creates the conditions in which new possibilities might unfold.
The abstract paintings in this show, an important one for this impressive New York artist, were made with aerosol spray directed at folded, cut and stitched-together canvas. And the pictures are only part of a larger conceptual package that includes the display of the paintings' shipping containers and has involved closing the gallery for a week. Mr. Rayne's taking apart of art conventions is erudite, visually effective and of a piece: the installation looks like a cross between a paneled library and a spreading bruise.