A rich range of greens, from turquoise to pond algae, predominates in the oil paintings of “Subtitles,” Hurvin Anderson’s first solo exhibition at Michael Werner. Figuration flows easily into abstraction in these 14 works (all 2010), which present semi-abstracted locales backed by palm trees and the lush foliage of jungle or near-jungle. Peter Doig, who was Anderson’s teacher at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1990s, is an obvious influence on the work, both in the style of rendering and the choice of scenery. As in Doig’s work, there is a storybook quality that lightly hints at classic 19th- and 20th-century illustration.
Born in Birmingham, England, in 1965 to Jamaican immigrant parents, Anderson did a residency in 2002 in Trinidad (where Doig now lives), an experience that has provided him with the source material for his tropical imagery. The few nameable objects that appear in his generally unpeopled landscapes are associated with leisure: patio chairs, striped umbrellas, tennis-court fences. Two smaller paintings are from a series titled “Country Club.” These works explore the border between civilization and wildness, the garden and the woods.
In some of Doig’s best-known works, views of buildings are interrupted by foliage, which creates an irregular pattern across the surface of the painting. Anderson seems to reverse this formulation, mostly in the larger works, by applying painted geometric structures on top of loose verdant landscapes. The various overlays act as viewfinders, measuring devices or screens. Inserted between the observer and a potentially threatening landscape of gestural paint, they serve to hold back the chaos.
Over the mossy expanse of Central (about 8 by 5 feet), a silver sunburst pattern contained in a rectangle looks like a machine for calculating perspective. Beaded Curtain (Red Apples) shows plants and sky through a surface pattern of regularly spaced red daubs (the apples of the title). The daubs look something like Sigmar Polke’s dots, perhaps revealing another influence on the artist. In the large Constructed View, incised circles, the size of coffee-can lids, and prismatic lines suggest an ironwork security grille that is paradoxically both in front of and behind the painted palm landscape. Northern Range’s structure is subtler, with horizontal registers that serve as the warp for a weft of watery green leaves. Extending flatly on the surface of the canvas, these various structural devices bring to mind 1980s hard-edge abstraction, and, unexpectedly, the quiet grids of Agnes Martin.
Anderson’s paint handling was skilled and sensitive throughout. If one had a quibble, it would be only with a too calculated contrast between oily clumps of paint and thin, washy passages. The very artfulness with which these are distributed on the canvas sometimes neutralizes the otherwise engaging, unruly aspects of the landscape.
Photo: Hurvin Anderson: Beaded Curtain (Red Apples), 2010, oil on canvas, 941⁄2 by 59 inches; at Michael Werner.