BY David Pagel in Reviews | 05 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 28

Sam Reveles

BY David Pagel in Reviews | 05 SEP 96

The velocity embodied by Sam Reveles' new paintings distinguishes them from his earlier works and lifts them out from under the powerful influence of Brice Marden's daunting abstractions, which have occasionally exerted too strong a pull on the young painter's ambitious images. More exuberant, open-ended and especially more at ease with inelegance and awkwardness, Reveles' recent, super-charged canvases stake out an inventive pictorial territory all of their own. Simultaneously graphic and insubstantial, this depthless space is physical and weightless, sumptuously sensual yet strangely intangible.

Like writing that causes your immediate surroundings to dissolve as you read it, drawing you into a more intimate and intriguing world of mental fictions, Reveles' inexpressive gestural paintings do not demand a willing suspension of disbelief when you begin looking at them, as much as they effortlessly sweep you up in electrifying vortexes of highly energised line. In the same way that successful seductions never ask for rational choices, the artist's swiftly rendered pictures refrain from making formal propositions: they simply lure you into risky, potentially embarrassing situations that you're not fully aware of until it's too late to escape.

This sort of after-the-fact realisation emphasises how quickly our bodies respond to visual stimulation, and demonstrates that our minds do not actually go to work until well after the rest of our subjectivities have somehow intuited that our intellects might be interested in what's already taking place. The sense in which Reveles' impulsive paintings are anti-linguistic or counter-verbal is the sense in which they are as risky for the artist as they are for their viewers. If these images did not work at a fundamental level of simple inarticulateness, there would be no way to talk yourself (or anyone else) into being interested in them. The only sensible response would be to dismiss them. This is the reason why works of visual art - particularly abstract ones - that appeal to the body rather than to ideas provoke irreconcilable arguments and divide proponents from antagonists more sharply than works that function primarily by means of the conceptual or sociological references they deploy. All-or-nothing gambles make reasonable people uncomfortable; always exciting, such risks are likewise impossible to justify. For Reveles' money, if art isn't unreasonable, it doesn't have any real reason for being.

The surfaces of his paintings, although worked, scraped, smudged, erased and re-painted, never feel laboured or built-up. On the contrary, the multiple layers of paint look flat and intangible, as if they have not been applied with a brush or rubbed with a turpentine-soaked rag but are currently being projected onto the canvas from behind, through some kind of strange matte light that is intense without being glossy. Reveles' palette thus fuses the eye-grabbing impact of vivid, supersaturated colour with the slowly unfolding ease of dry, almost chalky tones that look as if they've been faded by the sun. Each of the artist's many superimpositions of rich, autumnal colours, infused with intoxicating doses of vibrant lime-greens, fleshy peaches and dazzling azures, appears to have been applied in a matter of seconds rather than minutes - too quickly for conscious thought to catch up with the gesture it traces, yet too mechanical or systematic to be concerned with laying bare anything like a spontaneous, unconscious process or purely libidinal impulse. Too cool to buy into such sentimental sincerity, Reveles' paintings are also too passionate to be satisfied by the grim certainties of cynical irony. His best works negotiate precarious balances between disciplined restraint and unbounded abandon. Their infectious vitality lies in the swiftness with which they rebound between these momentarily superimposed poles, eliciting involuntary bodily responses that are too endlessly fascinating to pursue intellectually.