Jeff Depner’s commitment to one medium, in this case to painting, is rare in the current climate, in which artists work across increasingly varied platforms and often combine mediums. Depner’s paintings simultaneously explore paintings’ storied and experimental past and burgeoning future. Most of his richly layered acrylic works systematically investigate the possibilities of the medium by following a similar internal logic that in turn gives his oeuvre a remarkable coherence.
Each of Depner’s works begins with one central shape—a circle, square, triangle, diamond, rectangle, or some combination of the five—that becomes the basis and governing principle for a specific repeating pattern. At times, and in specific areas within his paintings, Depner’s patterns appear unrelated and unpredicted, but when taken as a whole, the component parts adhere in surprisingly organic fashion.
In RGP38 (2013), a large-scale acrylic painting on canvas, Depner fuses the sophisticated color sense of Bauhaus with an abstract patterning and optical illusionism reminiscent of works by M.C. Escher. Both Bauhaus and Escher were interested in exploring and advancing optics and color, but more specifically the two were invested in the importance of exploring both plausible and implausible architecture. Depner’s painting touches on both, and pays special attention to the importance of color as a symbolic and transformative attribute.
In RGP38 and Untitled (both acrylic on canvas, 2013), Depner creates a visually pleasing tension in which the colors seem to push the patterned shapes simultaneously into place and out of position, as though the final composition is one snapshot in a series of interchangeable mechanical positions. As polished as the patterning in his paintings appears, there are additional marks that hint at a deeper painterly quality. To add texture and disruption to the flat planes of color and shape, Depner adds small rivulet-like drops of color throughout the canvases, as well as small marks of thickly built-up paint and areas that are nearly opaque; these additions serve to heighten the aforementioned motion by adding a three-dimensional layering to his largely flat planes of color. This strategy also reminds the viewer that these are flat and painted compositions—not sculptures—that reference a long history of painterly abstraction and compositional experimentation. His works gain some of their visual depth first by appearing full of movement, and second by reminding the viewer that the works take part in a historic lineage.
Much of Depner’s work is dedicated to exploring the grid, an almost archetypal form of painting that many artists have investigated. For a number of years Depner has been working on a series titled Reconfigured Grid Painting that portrays grids with a variety of shapes and color palettes. In Reconfigured Grid Painting No. 18 (2012), he continues working with repetition and patterning: bold colors and subtle textures alternate in concave and convex diamonds that give this painting an intricate optical dimension.
Reconfigured Grid Painting No.24 (2012) maintains the structural quality and rich coloration of Depner’s other works, but takes a surprisingly delicate turn. The painting comprises a series of long, thin diagonal parallelograms that form inverted and right-side-up V’s that sometimes double as X’s. This painting’s palette is subtler and includes more white, yellow, flat red, light greens, and calm blues. The first layers of this work also add to the restrained delicacy, as the parallelograms seem to fade into a soft and diffused watercolor background unlike his other paintings.
Depner’s rich process, sophisticated color sense, and design awareness show through in each painting. What makes his work so interesting is his ability to translate what he sees and understands into a series of coherently striking paintings with a variety of optical and painterly devices—shading, pattern, opacity, near transparency, perfect flatness, and the scraping off and building up of pigment. His compositions investigate painterly complexity with an inventive and evolving methodology that provokes the viewer to see complex relationships between the history of painting and a future that is always yet to be defined.
Jeff Depner is a Vancouver-based painter. He received his BFA in design and illustration from Capilano University, Vancouver, Canada, and has shown widely across Canada and the United States. His work has been shown internationally in solo and group exhibitions in Vancouver, CA; Portland, OR; New York, NY; and Montreal, CA. His work has also been featured in several publications and blogs, including Artbox Magazine, Ruby Mag, The Globe and Mail, and Snap Magazine.