ELLE Décor

Three To Watch: Two New Faces And One Enigmatic Outsider Are Coming To The Forefront

No. 56, p.62, 68, & 70

[Excerpt] Something of the experience of El Paso, Texas, where Sam Reveles was born and raised, is felt in the ineffable quality of his abstract painting. One has a different relationship to the space out there, he says from his Brooklyn studio. You’re very susceptible to what happens in the sky and across the land. When the wind blows or the sun shines, you feel it within you. When it rains, it pounds you. It s very elemental in that sense.

Reveles’s work, which is on view at CRG Gallery in New York this spring and later at the St. Louis Art Museum, is a compelling mixture of staged conflict and high-velocity gestural transaction. Skeins of paint are laid over shadowy erasures; varying in speed and density and nuanced by rich autumnal color, these scorched-earth surfaces occasionally break into hot flashes of vivid lime-green and cool streaks of depthless azure. In some, an elegant but random choreography of ricochet, overlay, and collision reads like the trace of a particle accelerator. Others are tighter and more organic, like the clusters of tumbleweed that blow through Reveles’s homeland. But for all the associations the work carries, its strength is visceral, bypassing the language of observation to emerge, as it were, from within.

Reveles describes his early work, made while he was a graduate student at Yale and later as an assistant to Elizabeth Murray, Donald Judd and Brice Marden, as “skin paintings”: was stretching canvases directly on the wall in sizes related to the trunk of my body. These would then be painted with an idea of skin color- essentially my skin color – to become images of myself without arms, legs, or a head. The resulting canvases would sag under their own weight, the tactile seduction of the paint-laden surfaces offset by the macabre connotation of a surgical peel.

Interested in conjuring the presence and energy of his own body within the painted form, Reveles soon moved away from the conceptual bent of the skin paintings and began to explore a territory distinctly his own. Underpaintings can now be glimpsed from beneath the tangled webs of paint-sketchy copies of, for instance, a baptism or a crucifixion by Piero della Francesca, or an exotic garden taken from an Indian or Persian miniature. Time forces of immediacy are set against these tranquil scenes, the poetic machismo of the snarled gesture beating like the erratic lifeline of a now stilled tradition.

Reveles succeeds in large part out of an obstinate conviction in paintings ability to address the grand themes of its own mythology. Such faith may be all too quickly dismissed as an anachronismn shaded by the patrician figures of Abstract Expressionism’s past. In the end, though, all that stands between the viewer and such a dismissal is the raw energy and virtuoso presence of the paintings themselves.