Mark FloresMay 2008
~David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles~
Amid the lush, tipped-in plates and eye-popping grids of pinks and oranges, yellows and greens in the masterly text of his 1961 classic The Art of Color, Bauhaus teacher Johannes Itten strikes an unexpectedly melancholic note: “When the individual dies, he blanches. His face and body lose color as the light of life is extinguished. The dead soulless matter of the corpse is devoid of chromatic emanation.” In his second solo exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery, in which Itten plays a leading role, Mark Flores negotiated the complex territory between formal color theory and the form of the human body, between the rationality of color arranged cartographically and the frequently irrational subjectivity of desire.
Central to this negotiation is Antinous, the teenage lover of Roman emperor Hadrian. Dying tragically—supposedly by drowning, though it is unknown whether his death was suicide, murder, or an accident—Antinous was deified by Hadrian in mourning, and his effigy quickly spread throughout the vast Roman Empire to become a universal icon of youthful male beauty. Antinous Ubiquitous (all works 2008) is a triptych, with framed drawings of Antinous statuary meticulously rendered in silvery graphite on black paper (“devoid of chromatic emanation”) bracketing a mute and funereal object comprised of four thin black panels slightly overlapping in shallow relief.
In Antinous of Santa Monica Boulevard—a reference to a West Hollywood thoroughfare central to the area’s gay community—a bronze bust of Antinous is partially shrouded in a cream-toned leather hide, a second skin stitched delicately together with veinlike blue seams. The bust is accompanied by two framed drawings replicating Itten’s color star (one on a white ground, the other—an inverse of the original—on black), a cartographic mapping of a colored sphere transposed to two dimensions. The anachronistic title is telling: One can imagine the artist’s mind wandering while laboriously rendering the color stars, sublimating sexual longing into obsessive pedagogical exercises, gradually blending seriousness and pleasure.
Flores charts desire—mostly exemplified in the male body, though Judy Garland in an outtake from Easter Parade (1948) provides the subject for a sensuous, Technicolor triptych of drawings titled Mr. Monotony—and levels hierarchy while cruising art history and pop culture, drawing together Roman antiquity, Itten’s modernism, the bulletin boards of collage artist Jess, and 1970s-era cowboy hunks from the homoerotic magazine After Dark. A tension between modernist subjects and classical technique emerged in Flores’s impressive debut at this gallery in 2005; here, Itten provided a significant conceptual hinge for these seemingly divergent concerns. In The Art of Color, the modernist best known for his influential “preliminary course” at the Bauhaus reveals a devotion to the classical painting of Rembrandt, El Greco, and Jan van Eyck, using color—visually, emotionally, symbolically—to bridge past and present. Likewise, Flores reaches into history with a depth and complexity frequently lacking in much recent appropriation art.
The centerpiece of this ambitious show was Comparative Brilliance/After Itten, an expansive and dazzling grid painting comprised of 384 individually colored metal panels, each painted thickly but studiously with a palette knife, elaborating one of Itten’s most demanding exercises. The farthest left column of a grid sixteen units tall and twenty-four units wide is a grayscale that climbs from dark to light; the remaining columns follow suit, moving from left to right through a spectrum of color. Light reflecting off the knifed texture of each labor-intensive panel intensifies and complicates the act of charting their “comparative brilliance.” “The artist,” noted Itten, “is invested in color effects, from their aesthetic aspect, and needs both physiological and psychological information.” . . . After Itten intimates rationality and order, but its extrapolated spectrum subtly opens up the possibility of subjective experience; like a body desired, it is alive with chromatic emanation, the light of life.