Angles Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
For the last couple of years, Kevin Appel has come to be known for cool, crisp paintings of Modernist furniture and interiors, inspired by the same sources that have influenced many artists from Patrick Caulfield to Jorge Pardo and Angela Bulloch. In this breakthrough show, however, Appel’s work has moved beyond a socio-stylistic reappraisal of 50s decor, and into a realm where perception, memory and painterly possibilities form the chief contours of his investigation.
Two wall-sized paintings serve as touchstones for the exhibition, providing both spatial and proportional orientation for the other works, and underlining the vast compositional potential of Appel’s conceit. Interior with Sliding Panels (Southwest View) (all works 1998) is one of these - a spacious horizontal vista into a sparse residential room whose walls and floor are made up of rectilinear planes. Part post-and-beam structure in the style of Californian Case Study Houses, part Minimalist Japanese pavilion, Appel’s abstracted volume has the cold, clean look of a computer-assisted drawing or a virtual home. The mechanical clarity of the design finds contrast in the warm, tactile quality of the artist’s application of paint, where variations in density, texture, hue and opacity refocus attention on the primary activity at hand. On the opposite side of the gallery hangs Interior with Sliding Panels (South View), a painting that bears an unmistakable resemblance to its mate, but which is completely reorganised by a slight change in perspective. Comparisons become disorienting, frustrating, but at the same time titillating, as new nooks and crannies of this virtual house come into view. One can only imagine the exponential number of compositions Appel could generate with similar directional rotations, and the flexibility of the interior spaces, with their retractable walls, doors and screens complicate the equation still further.
Other paintings are derived from a more mobile scrutiny of the interior spaces, zooming in and out of rooms in such a way that scale and context are often addled and the constructional elements of the house lose their representational footing. View Through Sliding Door induces a mild discomposure in its cropped close-up of a section of wall, door and column, with one of Appel’s dazzling geometric trees visible beyond. All of these fragments are flattened and essentialised into a harmonious if unwilling abstraction whose inkling of illusionistic space keeps it in a perceptual purgatory. More challenging still is Orange Storage - a bright, busy composition of rectangles and stripes that passes for a competent, hard-edged abstraction in the manner of John McLaughlin until one catches what might be a slender shadow, and all visual confidence falls apart. The perpendicular pieces momentarily cohere into shelves and books, wall and uprights in a close-range view of a storage unit, then just as swiftly flip back to handsome abstract components.
McLaughlin’s early work also plied the gap between the objective and the non-objective, and Appel’s paintings find a similar pleasure in such indecision. A growing number of contemporary painters, including Fabian Marcaccio, David Reed, Shirley Kaneda, Adam Ross and Gary Hume, have incorporated illusionism and/or multivalent forms in their recent work to engage a grey area between abstraction and representation, and Appel’s new canvases are another move in this promising direction.