Whenever it seems that painting has run its course, an exhibition like Various Peep Shows comes along to restore our faith in the medium. For her third solo show at Honor Fraser Gallery, Annie Lapin presents a series that contains within each work the broad spectrum of paint’s physical and representational possibilities. These are much more than postmodern pastiches, however, as they show a sincere celebration of the myriad options available to produce meaning on the canvas. Instead of resurrecting an anachronistic style or playing out some formalist endgame, Lapin mines painting’s history to produce lively, fresh works that keep viewers constantly questioning what exactly it is they are looking at.
Most of the works in the show are based very loosely on a grid, with rough horizontals and verticals defining the composition. But within that basic structure, organized chaos reigns. Between the poles of impressionistic depiction and spray-painted letters, Lapin has smeared, dabbed, brushed, stained, and poured her way across the surface. The results often resemble the décollage of urban facades—torn posters, peeling paint, crumbling walls—hovering between creation and destruction, accretion and dissolution.
Despite the initial appearance of randomness, these works are carefully composed. Lapin has not simply attacked the canvas with all manner of mark-making, but has clearly preconceived her execution, as areas of thin wash abut patches of thick impasto. These different techniques lie side by side on the surface, only giving the impression of overlapping planes in the mind of the viewer.
The strength of the work lies in Lapin’s deft fluctuation between the real space of the paint and the canvas, and the illusionary space of the painting. As the title suggests, it is all about looking, about the different forms of perception that painting can engender. The best paintings in the show are the roughly seven-foot-square canvases like That Looks In and Out (2013). Dingy, thin vertical strokes sit on the surface, framing a brightly hued but obscured impressionistic scene, perhaps a landscape. In the lower third of the canvas are crudely spray-painted red and orange letters. A thick, angry patch of black and gray is smeared just right of center, almost from top to bottom. It appears on top of the other layers, almost like an act of vandalism.
The work’s fragmented nature prevents us from ever really feeling comfortable with what we are viewing. Lapin keeps us off guard, always unsure of our footing. We are pulled through the rectilinear window into the shallow, artificial space of the landscape, only to be thrust back to the surface by the literal physicality of the gray patch and the spray-painted letters. Our vision vacillates between the flat plane of the surface, the implied layers of paint, and the fabricated space of the landscape. It is not surprising, then, that Lapin studied archaeology before turning to art; by carefully sifting through layers, we arrive at revelation. Foreground and background often flip, as what appears to be in the distance jumps to the surface. In another work, Various Peep Shows (Through) (2013), many of the same elements are repeated, but the landscape this time seems closer to a wall painting or mural—a painting of a painting—further complicating the exploration of perception that Lapin is undertaking.
Lapin’s paintings aren’t distinguished by their massive size, hyperrealism, or salacious content. They aren’t hard-edged geometric works or monochromes, composed of diamond dust or bodily fluids. She doesn’t look to the extremes of the medium or succumb to gimmicky tropes. But by thoughtfully looking at the history of painting, its many permutations, functions, and possibilities, she has created works that make the case for the medium’s continued relevance. We’re not sure what we’re looking at with these paintings, but she keeps us looking.
Annie Lapin: Various Peep Shows is on view at Honor Fraser in Los Angeles through February 22, 2014.