Friday, October 19, 2012


   engender, 2012, watercolor, mulberry paper, epoxy, 36 x 36"

M I K E   S O L O M O N
Returning to the Mark
Salomon Contemporary
"Art does not have to address beauty -- to reach for beauty. But it sure is great if it does."
Peter Schjeldahl, 2005, in conversation with Neal Benazra, director SFMOMA, Wattis Theater 

Mike Solomon's new paintings hover between subject and object with an irresistible, melt-in-your-mouth translucence. Their fleeting visuals -- soft, commingling bars of color that float in deep space -- seem to colonize in an effort to elude definition, but they flirt at the edges of actual moments, coalescing and pulling apart within small poetries of memory, awareness and redolence. Something akin to what the mystics call "fragrance."

Now on view at Salomon Contemporary, selected paintings and sculpture from three distinct bodies of work, each an examination of fluid grids, wave patterns, hyperbolic planes and a sort of painter's mindfulness, in this, the artist's first solo show in New York City.

memoria de Seville, 2012, watercolor, mulberry paper, epoxy, 36 x 36"

Sitting across from these paintings in his East Hampton studio last week, Solomon shared some thoughts about process, optics, Impressionism and painting.

"When I was working out memoria de SevilleI just kept thinking to myself -- this color is so familiar -- what is it? And then it hit me -- it was Seville, where I visited once in the 70s. It was just so familiar."

The redolence conjured in these paintings exists on a number of other levels, too. They ricochet between reminiscences of Bradley Walker Tomlin, Paul Klee, minimalism and various Cubist idioms and then bounce to the more specific -- like layers of hard candy, koi ponds or coconut jello. Solomon's interests are wide ranging, but with this body of work he dives into the tenets of early Impressionism -- "the beginning of everything," he said -- as the optic brain helped launch the modernist era. 

Like most studio processes, Solomon's is relatively unglamorous. With watercolor, he paints modest shapes across mulberry paper and then layers resin on each sheet, addressing the pages one by one. There are a lot of basics -- sanding, peeling, adjusting -- along the way, but as the paper and resin accumulate into thickness, a sort of hallucinatory grid begins to emerge. 

"In some ways I'm working blind," said the artist, "from front to back. The process is about aggregating things --my response is intuitive -- I don't ever know 
exactly how it will end."

For the artist, who is working in the reverse throughout this process, the results are often a complete surprise. Color and form gradually pool into luminous, milky squares. The elements unify into a solid -- like melted sugar -- and the paintings look almost edible, as if one could lick the content from their surface. The resulting imagery is magically diffuse.


Solomon has talked about this often -- the way things coalesce -- and the events that shape the outcome. These things are at the core of his work. Of his fascination with water, he has spoken about the "fact" of waves as a place where something happens in the x and y grid -- an event, if you will. To this end, his focus has been undeterred throughout some thirty years of art making. Driven by action rather than reverie, Solomon's work is often referential but non-specific, like breath on the back of the neck.

"The past is an aggregate of the present -- it's still 
there -- to me, it's a more accurate model of reality."

The Bombora, 1979, (Isla Vista, March 3, 12:00), watercolor on paper, 6 1/2 x 9 1/2"

In a series of early watercolors the artist captured reefs, water flow and wave action in small works that examine the subtle coloration and movement of the ocean -- a big subject. The Bombora, 1979, is titled for a surfing term (a term coined in Australia, now used worldwide) that describes large waves breaking over a shallow area in the sea. 

Petalon, 2008-10, nylon net, epoxy, fiberglass, tints, 33 x 44 x 14"
The confluence of events that generally makes this a dangerous wave also makes it a Bombora, which is an attractive "event" for surfers. Such an event is what Solomon refers to as that "x and y place" in the grid. It's a cool and precise way of describing the indescribable. He locates that activity -- something he knows well after years of surfing and fishing -- in sculptural works in which fluid planes are torqued into form, their content as ephemeral, yet specific, as his paintings.

through the garden, through the gate, 2012, watercolor, mulberry paper, epoxy, 36 x 36"

"It's sort of like reducing memory to a molecular 
level -- you see previous things, pentimentos of things."

And so, contained in Solomon's grid work are the moments, memories and the small poetries that function at the edges of actuality. That subtle piercing into the fabric of memory is one of the mainstays of his oeuvre.

detail, Bolster, 2008

His blog, All the Work I've Ever Done, is crazy in that way. It's literally a blow by blow account of Solomon's considerable experience in the art world, from both coasts to Florida and beyond.

Panta rhei, 2008

"Art, you know, it's messy. As much as that is abstract, it's hard to get away from the fact of memory."

To be clear, Solomon is not waxing nostalgic, he's speaking more of the physiological properties of memory -- the mnemonic and cognition, optics, neuroscience and the visual brain -- as if moments in time could be spliced paper-thin.

 On view at Salomon Contemporary 
though November 17 -- don't miss 
this glimpse at a rare hybrid of 
structure, memory 
and fragrance.