The fiction of flatness is on full display in “Behind What It’s In Front Of,” the debut exhibition conceived by Seattle-based artist and designer Roy McMakin in Quint Contemporary’s crisp new downtown La Jolla gallery. The show pairs McMakin’s furniture-qua-sculpture with the minimalist canvases of the so-called “Hard-Edge” painter John McLaughlin (1898-1976), creating a visual relationship that works to dispel the popular myth that a surface can ever be flat.
McLaughlin’s paintings are high contrast formal reductions consisting exclusively of rectilinear forms rendered in a cool, muted palette. They are abstract configurations that suggest architectural elements like columns, doors, or windows. The contrast and position of these forms create weighted spatial fields, wherein shapes are ambiguously pulled forward or pushed back in illusionistic fashion. Juxtaposed to these are McMakin’s sculptures, blocky pieces of furniture that read like sculpted likeness of McLaughlin’s canvases, a sense heightened by their similarly painted schema. The McMakin objects are installed between the paintings on the walls or situated free-standing in the room, jutting out into space much the way McLaughlin purports to do illusionistically, establishing the primary visual rapport between the two artists.
This relationship reveals how, although we conceive of paintings as flat, two-dimensional surfaces, they do, of course, exist unequivocally in three-dimensions. While McLaughlin’s painted canvases, with their utter lack of impasto, project into space to a far lesser degree than McMakin’s bulky sculptures, they still do nevertheless, project. Ironically, the strength of McLaughlin’s abstraction is rooted in the fact that they do not need McMakin’s sculpture to make this point; their concern with architectural illusionism already does as much. On the other hand, while McLaughlin’s canvases are visually and illusionistically robust, they often feel emotionally flat. It is here that they benefit from their proximity with McMakin’s work, which imparts on the paintings a vernacular of intimacy that is hardwired into the old, worn down dressers that he appropriates, designs, or embellishes upon. The stage of this intimacy is located in a physical in-between space suggested by the exhibition’s title, which hints at the nooks and crannies between our furniture and our walls, where misplaced or forgotten tokens of our daily lives accumulate over time. The connection of these spaces, made overt by the skewed orientation of McMakin’s sculptures, to McLaughlin’s hard-edge aesthetic, brings to the latter a welcomed respite from an otherwise distant, leveled formalism.