At a moment when many shows consist of neatly delimited bodies of work in which the artist has tweaked a process or a style to produce a group of paintings that have only minor variations, it was refreshing to walk into a gallery where there were four or five distinct modes on view. This artistic diversity was all the more striking because it was the first solo exhibition in New York for Jeremy DePrez, a 31-year-old artist who lives in Houston, Tex., and appears unafraid of taking risks.
Several of the paintings feature jagged blobs of bright colors, mostly primaries, on large canvas-and-panel supports that are themselves irregularly shaped. Although some viewers might conclude that these acrylic-and-modeling-paste paintings began on a computer screen (the sharply cut shapes and solid colors evoke rudimentary painting software), they are, in fact, accurate enlargements of small objects the artist makes from squeezing together lumps of artificial clay. On one wall of the gallery, a very different sort of painting hung between two of these carnivalesque works: a 10-by-3-foot green oblong titled Untitled Brane Shrub (all works 2014). While the paintings flanking it feature smooth surfaces, Untitled Brane Shrub, which is the color of pea soup, sports an uneven, grainy surface that evokes forest moss or, perhaps more to the point, a 1980s painting by Ralph Humphrey. The edges of the painting are also irregular, defined by slight yet impossible-to-ignore waverings. Here, too, DePrez used a three-dimensional object as the model. The clue to his source (a sock) is found near the bottom of the painting, where the bumpy monochrome surface gives way to a band of closely spaced vertical stripes, indicating the ribbed cuff.
In other works stripes achieve total dominance, most dramatically in Untitled (Chuck), an over 9-by-14-foot canvas that was the largest painting in the show. Hundreds of ribbony dark-gray lines undulate up and down the canvas, never becoming perfectly straight, but never relinquishing their sinuous verticality. Because the optical effects approach a chaotic state, it takes a while to notice that the edges of the support are also never perfectly straight; DePrez has evidently carved his wooden stretchers so that they make subtle visual rhymes with the painted lines. If other works in the show offer hints, sometime strong ones, about their models—a pair of jockey shorts in Untitled (Plus One) and a Post-it in an untitled piece using acrylic and sawdust—Untitled (Chuck) is harder to identify. It might be a length of wrinkled fabric or a topographical diagram. In his self-penned press release (is it my imagination, or are a lot of artists writing, and signing, their own press releases these days?), DePrez tells us that it’s a painting of a rumpled shirt like the kind his father, a traveling salesman, used to wear.
DePrez is obviously a painter who relishes being in dialogue with the history of his medium (Alex Hay, Bridget Riley, Martin Barré and Jack Youngerman were among the artists who came easily to this viewer’s mind), but he is equally anchored in the realm of the everyday and, as his press statement suggests, in his own history. It is the intertwining of these sources, along with a slow-release humor, that helps this work achieve its impressive substance.