Just when you thought that looking at a work of art was a one-way street, Ed Valentine presents compositions that challenge the gaze and stare right back. Eyes, often upside-down and rendered eerily realistically, appear unblinkingly in every one of the mixed-media paintings on view in “Ed Valentine – Paintings 1997-2014,” a look back over nearly two decades of the artist’s work, on view at envoy enterprises. Visitors to the exhibition had best come prepared to be watched—not by other visitors, but by the art itself.
Valentine could be described as a portraitist, albeit one with a radically different approach to depicting his subjects. He deconstructs faces and figures into expressive patchworks of brushstrokes, scribbled and spray painted lines, geometric forms, drips, stripes, and, always, one or two eyes. Presented in varying degrees of abstraction and always pared down to their essentials, his painted people come in an exuberant assortment of types. The most abstract and amorphous appear as lusciously spread areas of paint against variously colored tartan backgrounds, as in Untitled Portrait with Green Line and Painted Eye or Untitled Portrait with Blue Line and Drips (both 2001). Energetic lines undulate behind the paint spread on top of them, visible just beneath this coating, and dancing out beyond its irregular edges. Tipping more toward representation are works like Figure with Blue and Green Drips (1998-2000). Here a pastiche of geometric shapes suggests a dress, topped by a multicolored patch of paint that reads as a head. Marker Portrait with Red Eye (1997) is representative of his most linear and spare compositions. An Alexander Calder-esque, continuously drawn red line describes a portly figure, whose whimsically formed head contains (in addition to the ever-present eye, of course) a portion of the letter “E.”
“My work is about beauty. It’s about life as a beautiful but imperfect thing,” Valentine once explained. “A thing that comes with scabs and scars. A thing that comes with broken bones, rips, drips and holes. We trust things that aren’t perfect, things that come with scabs and scars. We all have them. We’ve earned them.” As it turns out, then, these are portraits of us.
“Ed Valentine – Paintings 1997-2014” is on view at envoy enterprises, New York, May 18 – June 22, 2014.