In the work of Jason Middlebrook, minimalist geometry meets nature’s unpredictability. The Hudson, New York-based artist takes the carefully calculated patterns of 20th-century minimalism and forces them to confront the whims of nature, represented by the grain and curves of the natural hardwood slabs upon which he paints.
In the new show “Line Over Matter” at Austin’s Lora Reynolds Gallery—Middlebrook’s debut exhibition in the gallery’s main space—the artist presents a series of these “plank paintings” and works on paper. Many of the slabs lean up against the wall, like organic versions of California minimalist John McCracken’s pristine planks. In contrast, Middlebrook paints angular patterns and the swerving lines of Op Art on his wooden panels, the raw curves and unfinished edges of the hewn trunks recalling the shaped canvases of Frank Stella. The tension between the carefully organized motifs and the way the surface of the wood both defies and confines them is a reminder of humanity’s (often futile) attempts to impose order on the natural world.
While these works are painstakingly detailed, there is much more to them than rigid patterns. Yes, each plank piece embodies the tension between strict lines and organic forms, but on closer inspection a deeper relationship between the two emerges. The patterns call to mind a variety of natural phenomena, from the striations of agate and geodes to veins of gold and silver referenced by the artist’s choice of paint. As such, the boundaries between the manmade and the natural begin to blur, leaving the viewer to simply celebrate the beauty of serendipity.
“Line Over Matter” is on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, Texas, May 22–July 5, 2014.