Pairing two abstract painters, Pushing Boundaries [winter 2016] compares Paul Kremer’s room-sized geometric compositions with Eduardo Portillo’s molded odd-shaped canvases. {Scroll down for gallery.] Slide A boundary exists as a dimensional restriction between one entity and another, be they material, ideological, or otherwise. Observable within the works of Paul Kremer and Eduardo Portillo are a multitude of extensions beyond the so-called limitations or boundaries of painting as both a medium and a psychological pursuit. And Kremer and Portillo, in challenging these boundaries, unify in producing an exhibition that is at once sincere and hilarious.

What exactly does it mean to “push the boundaries” of art, and more specifically of painting, in 2016? In the past, painting has both lived and died, most notably in the words of Douglas Crimp’s seminal essay, “The End of Painting.” He wonders aloud if by accepting what was at the time of his writing (in late-modernism), that “the end of painting will have finally been acknowledged.” So, to recapitulate Crimp’s query, “Why painting?” What boundaries are now left to confront for artists working within a medium so plagued over time by, if not cynicism, then incredulity? In viewing the works of Portillo and Kremer, I argue for the presence of sculptural earnestness and tongue-in-cheek humor, which transport each artist’s respective flavors of abstraction into fresh visual realms. Clement Greenberg famously conceived of this departure from gestural non-representation as “post-painterly abstraction,” traces of which can be seen throughout Pushing Boundaries.

Consider the works of Eduardo Portillo, his pieces negotiating the literal edges and surfaces of the pictorial plane. They take the form of abstracted reliefs, the faces of which bulge and protrude into haptic space, almost as if blocking an attempted escape from beneath. In her 1991 article, “The Shape of Painting in the 1960s,” Frances Colpitt writes about the historical deviation from the rectilinear to include differently shaped canvases, which brought sculptural considerations into discussions about painting. She explains that the shaped canvas “was evidence of the desire of painters to move into real space by rejecting behind-the-frame illusionism.” Colpitt appropriately cites artists like Lee Bontecou and Frank Stella, apt influences whose work hybridizing painting and sculpture naturally precede Portillo. In works like Haku and Korosi, swathes of color embrace the confines of his mountainous pictorial fields, allowing the marriage of blankness and shadow to be captured so tidily within.
Conversely, Paul Kremer employs precision to effectively convey humor in his work. The artist is responsible for creating the viral Tumblr Great Art in Ugly Rooms, wherein he expertly and seamlessly digitally inserts canonical works of art into a mise-en-scène neither impressive nor expectantly deserving of such inhabitants. This implementation of absurdity is important for Kremer, as a tool for deconstructing the ways in which we interact with painting in addition to the context of viewing art in general. In pieces like Raft, Kremer elevates the reductive elements found in early geometric abstraction so that they retain their own personalities. Upon first blush, one might decipher Kremer’s abstractions as synonymous with the Hard-edge tradition, as in Hatch or Lightweight. However, they are actually cleverly deceptive in that they play into the more biomorphic elements of abstraction, clearly inspired by Ellsworth Kelly’s forms based in real objects and moments. There’s nothing diminutive about these works. Reducing his palette to three (or less) colors, Kremer distills the most basic requirements for depth into their organic foundations. These shapes—they shimmer and sway, but do not shrink. Not to be fooled, even their bor ders melt down and around themselves, hinting that this initial precision may indeed be a farce. And although Kremer is totally taking the proverbial piss, he’s laughing with and not at us. This becomes clear when we realize that his painted surfaces are meticulously culled, his shapes finely edged with razor sharpness.

There is a palpable synthesis and interplay between both artists’ treatment of the individual formal components of their work, in terms of how the boundaries that they are testing have less to do with rebellion and radicalism of the medium itself than being conscious of exploring one’s interests. For Portillo, he’s not so much making paintings as sculptures, and Kremer is telling jokes with shapes. Or perhaps they’re both making visual allusions to a story they once heard and are still figuring out how to retell.
– Sally Glass, artist | curator | publisher, Houston, Texas PUSHING BOUNDARIES