— By Owen Drolet
One of the most important achievements of abstract expressionism was its use of paint as an objective material in order to create a highly subjective art in reaction to European rational geometric abstraction. A beautiful paradox; irreducible, objective matter as representation of psychological states and other things interior. What was taken advantage of, for the first time, was paint’s fundamentally contradictory nature, its ability to depict reality while simultaneously asserting its own very real place in the world. To this day, painters wrestle with this contradiction, some heading more toward depiction, others toward declaration. Sam Reveles falls into a third group: those who stay exactly in the middle.
In these paintings a series of earth-toned gestures is built upon a grid armature until the underlying structure is all but obliterated. The paintings are handsome but the strategy – pitting the rational, in the form of the grid, against our slippery subjectivities, in the form of spontaneous gestures – seems a terribly old solution to this even older problem. By the same token, these are not l940s paintings, and it can be argued that much can still be achieved within the parameters of ab ex, particularly now that we have lost our sense of historical determinism. So, where you stand in relation to Reveles’s work – assuming you don’t disparage the entire practice as an all purpose container of capitalist evils – depends on your attitude toward historical progression, etc., and this is why painting is so important at this juncture. That Reveles avoids the linguistic excesses of others of his generation is refreshing, but the flip side of painting’s historical nature is the danger of redundancy. This talented painter should reexamine that history, for surely there are stones unturned in the objective/subjective field: they’re simply harder to find than that same old grid vs. gesture rock.