“Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many dos and don’ts. First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.”
– from Stephen Frears’ 2000 film High Fidelity
I’ve considered the twenty-seven days since last seeing Alain Biltereyst’s exhibition Notes at Devening Projects + Editions as time on the other side of a sensational threshold. These works filled me then with an intoxicating affect that evaded intelligible explanation. This was particularly frustrating as a number of my companions to the West Carroll Avenue openings on day zero were dismissive of Biltereyst’s paintings. Later that evening, I tried to defend the show as a scholar but found that such a voice, with its unidirectional logic and appeal to reason, could hardly articulate that precious affect that had enamored me earlier. To advance towards these works, I realized, would require a voice with elegance and fragility: the voice of a helpless lover. And in terms of a medium to carry that voice, I needed a form that would encourage the impression of my elusive intuitions without surgically pinning them to the wall.
Now, without further meddling introductions, I reveal Songs for Driving Home After the Slow Dance, a short mixtape for Alain Biltereyst’s paintings, a narrative that floats in and out of melody, harmony, rhythm, modes of text, image, and finally, a love story…
[Side A] – Ascent
The geometry of these paintings brings to mind the minimalism of Donald Judd, of works made when sleeves are rolled up and Picayunes are smoked into greasy stubs and flicked onto gray concrete floors. There is, however, tenderness present as well that conjures up something of the lyricism in Frank Stella’s black paintings. The works in this show are miniature and rather adorable, bashfully painted with a steady hand but with imperfections in the materials sticking their heads out the car window with a goofy lopsided grin. They’re pliable doo-wop harmonies singing an ode to the strength of material, design, and innovation.
If the allure of these works lies in the interesting gesture of making saccharine sweet counterpoint to the unyielding harshness of minimalism, what happens if you don’t get the reference? The endearing dimension here is subtle so if we’re not hip to art history, there’s the possibility that these works will just come off as underground indie snobbery. The B-side to this though is that if you do get the allusion, the merit of these works swells with intensity and they arrestingly open up to you piece by piece.
The accompanying text to this exhibition acknowledges that these paintings build on vernacular signage, the kind of colored arrangements of quotidian communication that adorn objects from credit cards to logos on billboards. That’s fine, but it’s more than rumination on the terrestrial activities of language and appropriation. Imagine being in the corner store on a Sunday morning to pick up milk and cigarettes and closing your eyes to sway slow to the fuzzy radio foley while the register reads your American Express at the speed of glaciers. Now lift your eyelids and peer down the chromatic aisles.
The paintings repeat across the wall in a perfect interval that measures the space into the vectors of minimalism’s holy grid. Without reiteration these works become too vulnerable and pathetic with the visual nod to hard-edged geometry in each composition turning into an ironic punch line, a joke aimed at a pedigree of mid-20th century artists. The charm of these paintings is that they oscillate. They’re social butterflies that effortlessly float between the durability of deep-voiced men in Levis and melodramatic introverts in orange corduroy dresses, at times showing that these two idealists could maybe kiss and make up.
It’s possible though that the oscillation in these works is concealing a mischievous transgression with such loving diplomacy. The paintings are subverting the brutish manners of minimalism and doing it with a cute smile. How? They’re also poking gentle fun at the overwrought pathos of a twee sensibility, telling those with such animated self-pity to rise and undress. Other than a soaring falsetto threat of a boot in the arsehole, the only other ample comparison is a stifling and forbidden sexual magnetism born from the aggression between Montagues and Capulets.
So these paintings, my loves, are perfect and my pining affections are forbidden for the insurrections they crusade upon. I can’t help from staring, blushing, writhing, from across the room at this point. But I’m starting to wonder if my love is destined to be unrequited. Warm mutates into paranoia now, what if I’m cast out with a shrug after standing idly sipping gazing long after everyone else cast you aside, I don’t think I can do this. no no no no no no no no no this isn’t happening, please…
[Side B] – Plateau, cause when you’ve made it to the other side, it’s best not to dwell for too long next to the barrier looking for the right way to describe what just transpired.
As it goes, jealousy is a fruitless affair. I mean to say that when you’re wallet isn’t wide enough to tease one of these plywood panels into going out for dinner with you, remember just this one thing: the rest of the world has been getting over it with their used record collection, favorite television programs, cheap cinemas, fishing…