April 19, 2012

Dan Walsh: Beyond the Grid

 Agent, 2012; acrylic on canvas, 70 x 70 in.

It is a surprise and delight when I fall in love with the work of an artist previously unknown to me. This happened to me with the paintings of Dan Walsh, currently at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea. I walked into a space filled with rich and vivid color, and inventive pattern; fresh and personal, yet indebted to the traditions of minimalism and design. In Agent, the color of heavenly blue and the receding (or progressively smaller) shapes at the top of brought to mind the architecture of stupa.

 Agent, detail

Walsh's brushstrokes are assured and elegant, the result of a building of mark upon mark. Walking up close to the painting, I enjoyed seeing evidence of the movement of the brush: the gathered spot of paint at the end of each stroke; the pattern left around the center of the square form; the thinner and thicker lines of red paint.

 Roebling, 2011; acrylic on canvas, 55 x 90 in.

The colors of Roebling are dark, yet saturated, and the light lines around each shape give the piece a shimmery quality, as though it is a silken rug. There's a sense of shallow overlapping space...

 Roebling, detail

created by dark lines around the yellow and red shapes, and enhanced by the color surrounding the small central squares; on the brown "background" the squares with their small circles are less contrasted in color and value so settle back. In some ways the idea is so simple, the cross and leftover square, but it results in a dizzyingly pleasurable visual experience. 

Cast, 2012; acrylic on canvas, 55 x 90 in.

In a fascinating, lengthy interview with John Yau in the Brooklyn Rail from March 2010, Dan Walsh speaks of himself as "playing in a sandbox"; he lets his strokes play. He begins with an idea and adds to it, paying attention all the while to process. Sometimes the result, as in Cast, is a simple image of repeatedly smaller marks, similar in feeling to the architectural quality of Agent.

 Stall, 2011; acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 in.

 Stall, detail

And sometimes it is more complex: in Stall there is an opaque blue-gray square sitting on top of transparent golden shapes, another variation of the patterning of Roebling

Rookies, 2012; acrylic on canvas, 55 x 90 in.

The title Rookies had my mind wandering to night-lit stadiums, the beaded central forms are curves in space, the border almost decorative in the way of a Persian miniature. The image is a captivating mystery, formal yet lighthearted. I wish I could thank the stranger who I chatted with briefly at another gallery for suggesting that I see these paintings. Along with the Fred Sandback show, it was a highlight of my day.


  1. Altoon,

    Thanks for introducing me to Walsh's work. There is this fantastic blend of childlike simplicity (I can't help but think of tongue depressors when I see the shapes in Stall, Roebling and Agent) and transcendence. I also enjoy the allusions to Asian temples, Persian rugs and some of the decorative painters from the '80's like Joyce Kozloff. Much visual fun here.

    1. I'm glad you like this work, Hannah, and thanks for your vivid and varied associations.