Accentuate the Negative: Bo Joseph’s Painted Silhouettes Reveal Hidden Connections within Blank Spaces

Bo Joseph’s complex, patterned paintings are the result of a process of deconstructing and reconfiguring forms and materials, often leaving the results up to chance. He plucks images from auction catalogues and books, traces them, lathers them with paint, then peels off said layers of paint, and outlines the fragments that remain. Several of these works, currently on view at Sears-Peyton Gallery, explore what happens when objects are stripped of their cultural, religious, temporal, and geographical contexts and assigned new meanings.

  • Installation view of “Bo Joseph: Hiding in Plain Sight,” courtesy of Sears-Peyton Gallery

Joseph’s previous shows at Sears-Peyton Gallery—“A Persistent Absence” (2009), “Fragments of a Worldview” (2012), and “Geometry Interrupted” (2013)—highlighted gaps in Western-based cultural and historical lexicons. Fittingly, many of his drawings and paintings concern themselves with finding areas of negative space and tracing their contours. Works featured in his current show, “Hiding in Plain Sight,” are more radical in focus than they might initially seem. Joseph underscores how non-Western objects experience a change in symbolic value when stripped of their spiritual or functional contexts.

With Disunified Theory: Blue Shift (2015), Joseph seems less concerned with achieving linear precision or what a museum plaque might call a “balanced composition.” Instead, he is interested in finding points of convergence between disparate forms—many of which are masks and ceremonial objects—and then articulating their particular curvilinear edges. The exclusively blue palette and the silhouetted items that it brings to life recall cyanotype processing. Significantly, just as cyanotypes once captured incomplete, unreliable versions of a subject, so too do Joseph’s process-dependent works.

  • Bo Joseph

    Co-Opting Cryptic Signs

In Co-Opting Cryptic Signs (2014), vibrant colors and patterns abound, exuding a Mark Bradford–like flurry of layered textures. The origins of material—auction catalogues and street-art detritus—vary considerably and lead to different conceptual meanings. The patchwork of colors and shapes that Joseph has pieced together could plausibly be taken for a crowd of people. Where faces might appear, however, there are only blank spaces, and the forms are left nameless and genderless. This lack of identity takes away any suggestion of a sociological context—and instead offers a mythic quality.

Joseph’s love of process seems to stem from a strong curiosity around form and the space around him. In his words: “the resulting works are by-products of my exploration and reconciliation of diverse cultures [that] assert signs of ideological syncretism and contemporary interdependence.”

—Anna Furman

Bo Joseph: Hiding In Plain Sight” is on view at Sears-Peyton Gallery, New York, Apr.16–May 16, 2015.

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