Attack of The Mutant Paintings Somewhere out around the farthest edge of painting looms the mutant work of Fabian Marcaccio. Engendered in the entirely unhealthy womb of convoluted, quarrelsome art history since the 1970s, Marcaccio's work belies its competing strains, structural alterations and bizarre aptitudes. Not photography, installation, digital art or, for certain, pure painting, Marcaccio's work has all the manic energy and bad manners of an ebullient mutant child. An artistic Frankenstein, part handmade application and part machine print, Fabian Marcaccio's "Paintants," a coinage the artist uses to describe his largely hybridized works, at once fascinate and confound by their status as the powerfully defective, open-ended spawn of a decadent, uncertain age.
Now appropriately on view at the brand-new digs of Gorney Bravin + Lee, the gallery with the endlessly mutating name, Marcaccio's Time-Paintants reveal themselves as equal parts painting on a printed surface, sprawling structural networks and large, billboard-size strips that can only be engaged by employing a little of Aristotle's old-time Peripateticism. Festooned by one set of Time-Paintants (the plural presumably refers to the work's distinct image-laden areas), the gallery's exterior facade, now under construction, hums with thumpingly bright colors and zipping printed brushmarks. The computer-generated mural, created in collaboration with a Los Angeles printer, creates a spectacular entranceway to the gallery itself, which in its turn holds Marcaccio's second, unspooling, architecturally minded piece.
A 112-foot-long digital printout buttressed by a twisty-turny scaffolding escaped from a Cronenberg film set, Marcaccio's installation wraps itself inside the gallery walls like a semicircular perimeter fence, a dike-like frontier apparently designed to hold back at least as much information as it presents. Snaggletoothed struts and curving supports swoop in from beneath and above the warping fabric, at times hooking back into the printed, painted images in the manner of pulsing, retrofeeding members. Plastic-cast brushmarks and impastos erupt from the high-tech material Marcaccio chooses over canvas (the frustrating, untearable stuff from which Federal Express envelopes are made), many of them held there like turtle-sized barnacles by means of velcro strips.
The hundreds of images and marks the installation bears, for their part, flout most traditional compositional principles. Preferring the look inherent in the spontaneous, push-button edit of visual images available to all Westerners, Marcaccio throws up large photo-based backgrounds into which he embeds hundreds of smaller images. What follows then are perhaps thousands of paint marks, some loudly visible, some not, and countless gloppy applications of strident pigment and transparent gel, many of these mimicking in actual impasto Lichtenstein's cartoon brushstroke, itself a visual quip aimed at the famed abstract-expressionist sense of "touch."
Marcaccio's art, though, is made up of more than a few graduate-school quotations. Hardly spontaneous, the elements Marcaccio employs are calculated to the point of being progressively catalogued by the artist in published pamphlets, such as his "560 Conjectures for a New Paint Management." Highly analytical in his approach, Marcaccio has spent more than a decade literally dissecting the corpse of formalist abstract painting. The familiar conventions he entertains (wall, stretcher, canvas, ground, brushstroke, mark) Marcaccio makes a point of reassembling in intricate, topsy-turvy ways, creating exciting new articulations from an old, established order. Walls cease to be the painting's carrier; stretchers push themselves forward like sculpture, acquiring a new protagonism; a printed canvas-weave pattern doubles for the canvas itself, then lapses into a thick strand of actual paint; the artist's mark, amplified in size and faux expressiveness, is rendered in gooey, colorless gel.
But rather than a simple deconstructionist's send-up of painting, Marcaccio's painting-mutations push the limits built into the practice's formalities, while unveiling the staidness built into the use of its essential elements. For Marcaccio, painting presents a set of conventions to be endlessly broken down and recombined. Like a game, they are there to be put back together, to confect new, viable formats for the presentation of meaning. At issue here is the ability of art, and specifically that of abstract painting, to maintain and expand its increasingly tenuous hold on the world at large. After the passage of Greenbergian formalism and the long decades of mostly esthetic navel-gazing that followed, Marcaccio is ready to blow the roof off the genre. Who can blame him?
Marcaccio's Time-Paintants are often so crowded with visual material as to seem like explosions in some futuristic image-factory. His latest installation, for example, contains nine different image areas identified within the work itself by labels-cum-titles such as "Image-Addiction Paintant" and "Micro Political Paintant." Each of these areas presents a large digitized photographic pattern that serves as background for Marcaccio's dense image and material imbrications. Traveling clockwise, he begins at one end with some 8 feet of fresh green cornfield; then moves onto a ground full of cigarette butts and tire tracks; a magnified pattern of blue-gray burlap follows with little hard-core pics tucked into its rough weave; in the next "Paintant," Marcaccio's fabric breaks up into heavily daubed painterly slippages(and so on.
One unavoidable idea promoted by Marcaccio's Time-Paintants is that they are somehow self-generating. In echoing each other at both micro and macro levels (the little pornographic snippets, for example, reach full fruition several feet ahead in the "Les Demoiselles Paintant," a blurry orgy scene mottled further by a small reproduction of Picasso's famous brothel picture) Marcaccio's individual image areas turn into an unfolding expectation of connection with the next thing, and the next thing after that. But if his works lack closure, it is something the artist appears to know full well and use to absolute advantage. Take, for instance, his conflation of crosses, peace signs and swastikas. Unfinished, they signify nothing but the empty, roiling vessels of sloganeering; cavernous conceptual spaces to be filled in by the meaning-obsessed imagination.
Fabian Marcaccio has latched onto the form of an exploded collage to mirror the runaway heterogeneity of art-world pluralism and 150 cable channels. Employing an augmented version of the juxtaposition of images as "a route for abstraction," he looks to get down the world's increased connectivity in a dizzying, screenlike parade of images discoursant in two as well as three dimensions. Obviously, the last thing on Marcaccio's mind is making orderly, well-balanced pictures. "The more important thing," he has said, "is to make art that really engages with the world." Let's hope, in the case of this tremendously ambitious maker of tangled, conflicting and gorgeously exploded paintings, that the world returns the compliment.