One might call Dan Walsh’s geometric abstractions of the last few years—systematically made, but far from automatically generated—tantric minimalism. Painted according to a defined set of rules, they are, at the same time, invested with the physical effort and sustained concentration that marks both the canvases of Agnes Martin and Rajasthani tantric art. By rendering them in layers of translucent acrylic paint, Walsh reveals the logic by which they are produced. At the same time, overlapping brushstrokes and subtle variations in the application of color give them an unexpected lushness and buzzing opticality.
Each of the new paintings in Walsh’s recent exhibition is composed of serried rows of a single basic unit-a square, pyramid, cross or tic-tac-toe mark. Made of fat brushstrokes with rounded ends, the shapes are often overpainted in different colors. Sometimes the new hue starts one row of units down, and one column in from each side, as in the prayer-rug-like Roebling (2011), a field of crosses painted in successive washes of caput mortuum, blue, red, yellow and purple that grow progressively denser from top to bottom.
A downward drift is in fact characteristic of many of the compositions, which often seem to be piling up on or running off the bottoms of the canvases. In Cast (2012), the rows of upside-down pyramids in shades of cream, brown, and gray appear to scroll down the painting as on a computer screen. This impression of gravitational forces at work is enhanced by Walsh’s hanging of the paintings low on the wall, which literally brings them down to earth and thereby counters the aura of transcendence that historically surrounds abstract art.
With their quiltlike patterning, the works (most the dimensions of a medium-size area rug) are Walsh’s most decorative yet, variously invoking textiles, floor plans of churches or temples, or tile work. In places, the artist has gone back into the paintings with a finer brush to add touches, such as the concentric squares inhabiting the spaces between the crosses in one work or the polka-dot pattern in the background of another. The most beguiling pieces here, though, are the most straightforward, such as the subtly flickering Temper (2012), with its yellow-washed green squares ranked on a yellow ground.
In the smaller front gallery was a 2011 series of drawings produced by incising designs-mandalalike circles and squares-into metallic paper before sanding it down. Opposite them were three nearly monochrome grid paintings on paper (all 2008), each painting employing one more layer of color than the one next to it. While these latter provide a key to how the other works in the show were made, the former might provide the key to why. While devoid of symbolic content, Walsh’s paintings-like the abstract cosmological art of India and Tibet-focus both the eye and the mind, conflating the minimal object with the meditative.
Photo: Dan Walsh: Agent, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 70 inches square; at Paula Cooper.