Matthew Deleget, Vanitas (Black), 2014, Enamel spray paint on canvas and decorative frame, diptych, 19.25 x 15.25 x 1.5 inches each, 19.25 x 32.5 x 1.5 inches overall

Matthew Deleget at Peter Blake Gallery
By Mariangeles Soto-Diaz
No. 19, Volume 5, 2014, p. 82

Matthew Deleget’s new show at the Peter Blake Gallery, titled “Vanitas,” replaces his usual historical creations with a series of monochrome paintings made with enamel spray paint on canvas and decorative frames. By uniformly spraying both canvas and frame to create a seamless unity, Deleget literally and figuratively makes visible the role of the frame. What kinds of frames — statements, institutions, criticism — are necessary in the constitution of an artwork’s ontology? Questions of conceptual framing and painting’s ontology are indispensable to monochrome painting’s ongoing history, and in “Vanitas,” Deleget engages some of the ideas expressed through the genre.

All nine of the medium-sized monochrome paintings subscribe to the same formula, though each work elicits a different set of associations. Vanitas (Bright Gold) features the most ostentatious of the frames, working as a shorthand for excess and the material displays we associate with the historical genre of vanitas. Using semantic rather than illustrative means, Vanitas (Bright Gold) steers the focus toward matters of taste and tastelessness, tempering the shorthand for material excesses with the light moral undertone that characterizes the genre. There is no explicit manifestation of material wealth, but Deleget’s elaborate gold frame against the austerity of monochrome painting make for a surprisingly brilliant tension. In contrast, Vanitas (Pewter Gray), features the least decorative of the frames in the exhibition. The dense, flat gray of this work highlights the painted nail holes and ridges of the wooden frame’s dents, recalling Deleget’s own hammered paintings.

The unpretentiousness of Vanitas (Pewter Gray) has the odd familiarity of unfixed yet periodically repainted wooden floors. Also echoing architecture, Vanitas (Dover White) distances itself from the cool white monochromes by Malevich, Ryman or Rauschenberg through its moderately ornate frame whose warmth vaguely recalls middle-class living room walls with baseboard moldings. The white monochrome fills the trope of silence in reductive abstraction, calling into question the border separating meaning from potential meaninglessness, and yet this articulation is deftly thwarted by Deleget’s noncompliant decorative frame—the empty vessel might not be empty after all.

Deleget’s primary color monochromes — Vanitas (Ford Blue), Vanitas (Sun Yellow) and especially Vanitas (Tomato) — animate the exhibition, infusing the entire show with an offbeat take on primaries. Finally, Vanitas (Black) is repeated in the show (one solo, two as diptych) and feels closer to Allan McCollum’s Plaster Surrogate paintings than to Reinhardt’s sublime monochromes. If the black monochrome stands for the tired cliché of painting’s ongoing death, here its declarative power is recast as a symbol of ephemerality.

While Deleget’s exhibition might be interpreted as a metaphor for painting’s condition, it is neither dry nor cynical. “Vanitas” makes visible the need for visual and intellectual pleasure modulated by a humorous dose of subversion, as well as the underlying imperative of slowing down the fast rhythm of obsolescence. And that may just be the key to abstract painting’s viability, at least for now. All is vanity.

Mariangeles Soto-Diaz is an artist who lives and works in Southern California. Her writing has been published in Contemporary Aesthetics, Postcolo- nial Studies and other academic journals.

Matthew Deleget, Vanitas (Black), 2014
enamel spray paint on canvas and decorative frame, diptych
19.25 x 15.25 x 1.5 inches each

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