BY Ara H. Merjian in Reviews | 18 MAY 13
Featured in
Issue 155

Maya Bloch

BY Ara H. Merjian in Reviews | 18 MAY 13

Maya Bloch, Untitled, 2011, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 1.3 × 1.1 m

With this latest suite of canvases, ‘here you are’, Maya Bloch further established herself as one of the more exciting and able young painters exhibiting in New York’s galleries. Whether rendered alone or in small groups, it is the human figure that continues to anchor her distinctive, nacreous acrylics, blended in several recent works with oil pigment, and leavened in at least two others with spraypaint and ink, respectively. Generally laid in thin, multi-hued washes, Bloch’s paint dries to reveal physiognomies and faces, striated with wisps of colour, or bloomed into misshapen masks. Her surfaces occasionally recall the decalcomania experiments of Max Ernst or Oscar Dominguez, in that they exploit the aleatory traces of wayward paint, in which portentous forms appear to lurk and flicker into view.

These effects tend mischievously to wrest attention away from the bodies they help describe, pooling or curling into formal aberrations that solicit scrutiny on their own terms. Untitled (2011) reveals a girl close up in three-quarter view, her head resting on her fist, a fiery red shock of hair veined with capillaries of black. In Untitled (2012), a torso and face appear barely extricable from a cloud of silvery paint, which swells to the canvas’s edges and swallows ground as much as figure. While the latter painting reveals a varied field of billowing shapes, it is the former – its figuration undermined in ways at once more simple and subtle – that repays a close, slow look. So, too, does Untitled (8 Figures) (2012), which uses collage to yoke together figures of different size and scale. The work’s cuts and pastes – by means of which a male individual appears surrounded by a cluster of faces – are tucked in at the seams. Seemingly cobbled together with the insouciance of memory or dream, visages rear up as if seen from different angles, yet occupying the same shallow space. With Untitled (Head and Torso) (2012), the painter has ventured for the first time a vertical diptych, in which a head and swirling mane do not quite fit upon the torso that fills out the work’s lower quadrant.

For the most part, however, nearly every canvas in the exhibition was stretched at roughly the same, quadrangular dimensions, even as they evoke different kinds of space. Works like Untitled (2012) set bodies against a murky, flat background, while Untitled (Bella) and Untitled (Figure with Small Tits) (both 2012) place solitary figures in a vaguely delineated recession, the later even adumbrating a (mismatched and playful) perspective with solid, straight lines. A few works – such as Untitled (2+2) and Untitled (both 2011) – find the artist instead diluting her paint at the scene’s edges, or invoking an abstract patterning, in seeking to evince spatial ambiguity. Bloch’s brush is deft at unravelling and dissolving space, but strains somewhat in building it up. When she manages to keep these tendencies in tension, as in Untitled (Flowers) (2012) her work is most compelling. The foreground of this (uncharacteristic, yet inspired) still life playfully confuses shadow, sill and pure paint. Combining thick brushwork with a sheer transparency, a solid architectonics with a warped floral morphology, the image portends further strong efforts from this first-rate painter.

Ara H. Merjian is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at New York University, USA, where he is an affiliate of the Institute of Fine Arts and Department of Art History.