Sarah Walker’s paintings hew to the information-overload esthetic favored by this Williamsburg gallery. Layering linear structures, mutant polyhedrons and pseudo-diagrams in thinned acrylic on smallish, squarish (from 10 by 11 to 36 by 38 inches) wood panels, Walker suggests force fields and event horizons. Partially Seen Things (all works 2010) sports intersecting cantilevered dumbbell shapes—looking something like a misbegotten Eames coatrack—in electric azure and ruddy plum. Irregularly spaced yellow-green stripes race through a space mottled with turquoise and tangerine. The interpenetration of fore-, middle- and background looks familiar, recalling the overlaid graphical systems of Terry Winters and Bruce Pearson.
Surprise lurks in the disconnect between Walker’s pictorial expanses and her clotted surfaces. At close range, the paintings are junky and dense; tiny pools of medium, fidgety brushwork and evidence of sandpapering create surfaces engagingly inefficient and nasty, nowhere as integrated as they appear from even a few feet away. But from afar—and in photos—her paintings’ spaces are as grand as distant views of a teeming metropolis. That incongruity jams the viewer’s sense of scale and is the works’ most compelling characteristic.
Dark Objects resembles a solarized photo of a swirling, violet-black oil slick superimposed on a radiant, metastasizing street map of ochers, oranges and blues. Walker understands coloristic signal-to-noise ratio, playing her crackling oranges, zippy green-blues and vibrant reds off areas of muted secondary hues, near-grays and off-whites. Fragmenta looks a bit like a blistering film frame that has been tweaked in an image-editing program. A trippy pattern of bursting bubbles in cool, dense blue opens up, in the center of the picture, to reveal a wonky grid of silvery gray and radiant orange. The colors and contours have a distinctly digital flavor, yet the evidence of painterly labor is irrefutable.
Walker’s ambition seems to be to address the conundrum of contemporary visuality, in which actual and virtual, process and image simultaneously subvert and support one another. Notwithstanding her chromatic razzle-dazzle, her determinedly awkward touch draws the viewer in. Walker’s watchmakerlike attention to the minutiae of her craft humanizes her obsession with technological systems. It is a slightly ridiculous way to put together a painting, but this artist makes it work.
Photo: Sarah Walker: Dark Objects, 2010, acrylic on panel, 26 by 28 inches; at Pierogi.