Throughout the history of modern and contemporary art, artists have been staking ground. The Minimalists stripped the work down to its barest essence, in opposition to the Abstract Expressionists, who filled their canvases with gestural marks driven by emotion, contrasting, in turn, with the Pop artists, with their penchant for the stuff of consumer culture. Towards the later 20th and into the 21st centuries, these and other divisions were worn thin as artists, like John M. Armleder, embraced and combined many different forms of media. Working in performance, sculpture, installation, and painting, Armleder is a self-professed maximalist, whose Mick Jagger-inspired maxim is: “Too much is not enough.” This more-is-more ethos is currently on display in his 15 large-scale, mixed-media paintings—each one an eruption on canvas—in “John Armleder: PANTAN” at Galerie Andrea Caratsch.
Each painting is named after a lake in the majestic Engadin region of the Swiss Alps, not far from the gallery itself. In a play on the grandness of the lakes versus the relatively contained size of his compositions, and in reference to his creative process, Armleder calls them his “puddle paintings,” titling his exhibition “pantan,” or “puddle” in the Rhaeto-Romanic dialect spoken in parts of Switzerland. Unlike their real-world counterparts, however, Armleder’s puddle-lakes are anything but serene. The roiling, dripping, and slathered surfaces of his canvases evoke churning water, splashes, crashing waves, psychedelic reflections, or the cracked, muddy bed of a parched lake.
Sprinkled over the abstract, agitated surfaces of his compositions are bursts of glitter, toys, and other bits of detritus. In Palpuogna (2012), the dismembered parts of a small plastic skeleton are scattered about the center of the canvas, bringing to mind men and women lost at sea, or ancient civilizations sunken into the earth, swallowed by oceans. A flotilla, of pirates, perhaps, or possibly crusaders, seems to have swept over the waterscape of Laviner (2012), which is littered with swords, crosses, tiny crustaceans, and yet more skeletal remains.
To make these works, Armleder harnesses chance in order to control, sloshing cans of paint, varnish, and solvent over the picture plane to build up their impasto surfaces. The result is a visual maelstrom, in which artistic divisions and preconceptions are swept away. Through such a generous information-overload, Armleder aims, in his words, to allow viewers to “sort out whatever they want, and there’s still [room] for more.”
“John Armleder: PANTAN” is on view at Galerie Andrea Caratsch through April 30, 2014.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory