Composition with Gemstones II, 2001-2002
Mixed media on canvas, 158 x 217 cm
Since the ’80s, Philip Taaffe, currently showing at Gagosian Uptown, has been experimenting with borrowed imagery. Early pieces copied Barnett Newman or Ellsworth Kelly paintings almost in toto, with the addition of a rope motif collaged onto the canvas. That Taaffe has always declared his affinity for color field painters like Newman and Rothko is odd to me; every decade seems to have added another layer of business to his canvases. One painting at Gagosian has watery purple and red strokes over a butter yellow ground under crescent moon shapes, all overlaid with a grid made of Buddhist-looking flame circles. Another canvas, Dryadic Figures, has an ombre background shading from blue to green, with floating asterisks, Stonehenge-like shapes, and leaves of grass growing out of the bottom edge. The asymmetrical grid or mesh laid over most of the canvases is usually either a motif borrowed from another culture—Mayan, Islamic, whatever—or else some taxonomy of leaves, shells, even knives. Taaffe has said that “the cumulative effect of continuous applications of line and color” is to create “some kind of actively structured field…an entrance to a trance-like state.” The intent is a combo of Op and Joseph Campbell, an almost mystical belief in the power of pattern.