It’s an old riddle that begins with the question: What’s black and white and red all over? The original answer is the newspaper. Another answer is a crossword puzzle done in red ink. Punchlines to the joke play off the double meaning of the color red and the past tense of the verb “to read.” The riddle is a remnant from a time before the internet, when print media was the source of all readable news, and the newsfeed as we know it today - the endless scroll of information streaming across the screen - was an unknown phenomenon of the future.
Artworks by Anne Deleporte and Stephen Dean in BLACK & WHITE & RED ALL OVER are as mutually tied to “mass media” as to their use of color as an immersive device for reading the political subjectivities of everyday life, affirming how critical the use of color is in codifying cultural associations. In her use of a limited palette, Deleporte’s light blue murals and black paintings are two ongoing series that are an exercise in reading the newspaper for its visual messages. Painting black or blue, sometimes gold, over all but a selection of images, she transforms The New York Times from news media into a surrealist rebus through a process of obscuration and filtration. Dean’s recent artworks demonstrate how diagrams, dabs of paint, and pushpins, among other materials like cigarette papers, suggest archaic systems of meaning, from his Jugglers, and You are Here, to his large-scale Crosswords that are flecked with drops of watercolor small and large to create patterns that can be read as maps, textiles, and code.
For their exhibition BLACK & WHITE & RED ALL OVER, Deleporte and Dean have collaborated on Winning Icon (2016), an installation in the vitrine located on Rue Dauphine, where viewers can scratch gold leaf from a gilded window to reveal a set of shapes and colors inside, behind the glass. Beneath the precious metal, one can begin to see a large-scale assemblage of faded pieces of flags from multiple countries that include Bangladesh, Laos, Colombia... The colors of these flags are subjective in relation to their national symbols: the red disc in the Bangladeshi flag is a sun rising, and the red symbolizes bloodshed in the Liberation War; the Colombian flag has yellow for the gold that has been found on Colombian land, blue for the seas, rivers, and sky, and red for struggle. Dean has made a number of these flags in order to deconstruct the iconic geometry of national and political identification because the symbols continually shift in meaning. Even within one country’s history, the meaning of the colors of the flag change over time, taking on new symbolism as political events unfold, reshaping our understanding of the culture they represent. The flag’s slow reveal behind the gold encrusted window is a metaphor for the process of realization and transformation of political signifiers over time.
The picture may appear to become clearer, but as more information is visible, our understanding of the symbols becomes more complex and varied in association. Alongside Winning Icon is a peephole to Deleporte's video of red flag flutters on the beach, a piece from 2015 that signals a warning.
Deleporte's black paintings and blue murals use a related technique that she invented for the original large scale blue photo-frescoes. In both color schemes, she employs a process that involves carefully painting around a selection of images from the newspaper. The blue photo-frescos tend to be architecturally scaled, taking up a wall or ceiling beginning with a wheat pasted installation of The New York Times that is integrated with interior architecture, or outdoors, running along a construction fence or covering the facade of a building. The black paintings tend to be done on autonomous, smaller scale canvases that can be rearranged to play with the symbolism found in these newspaper snippets. For BLACK & WHITE & RED ALL OVER, Deleporte has made a foray into red paint, establishing yet another set of rules to the salvaged pages of newsprint. This started with SLAP (2016), an imprint of an Indian woman's hand superimposed onto an neo-classical anonymous drawing of men's hands. In the red paintings, more of the image, if not all, is stained in red rather than painted around, or highlighted. In an attempt to interpret these works in psychological terms, they may be read in terms of what each color symbolizes. Red for debt, black for profit. But, like the images that Deleporte’s pain- ting process leaves behind, her choice of these colors - blue, black, and now red - is based on the qualities of light and materiality. It is Deleporte’s selective reading of images that creates a sense of order out of the glut of visual and textual matter we face on a daily basis, while also leaving the door open to the viewer’s subjective reading. Like the news itself, Deleporte’s paintings leave certain details to the imagination. How one image or detail relates to another is part of the experiment. The real mystery is what Deleporte chooses to cover up.
Stephen Dean’s recent work with crosswords continues to explore an interest in the cultural phenomena of color. Playing with illusion and scale, his crosswords are are at times large and immersive, taking on an architectural scale. Or, they are expanded in size but retain the newsprint intimacy of crossword puzzles found in the newspaper that seem to go on forever, never to be solved. Dean’s You Are Here series abstractly but systematically engage with a sense of space, if not geographic, then conceptual. What connects the Crosswords with You Are Here is a sense of identification and specificity within the technically produced conditions of the world that surrounds us.
So the specificity of buying the daily newspaper in order to do the crossword puzzle is no longer necessary and it has become another searchable data point. Dean’s process resists the ongoing obsolescence of technological supports, reclaiming diagrammatic forms like crossword puzzles, dart boards, and flags, for their foundational value.
More meaningful than the tensions of technological transition are the color coded sequences that are embedded within Dean and Deleporte’s respective artistic projects. Dean’s You Are Here marks cardinal points, suggesting directional orientations, and in the Crosswords, the solution to the puzzle is an analysis of color rather than words. Washes of blues and greens overlap with the black and white geometry of the diagram-like puzzles. Open to interpretation, they offer an alternate reading of systems of language and thinking. In reading, or solving, a crossword, one must answer a set of questions that reveal words and phrases that may or may not be thematically unified. For instance:
Question: What’s a five letter word that the sound a rotten tomato makes? Answer: SPLAT Q: What’s a three letter word for fled or bled? A: RAN
Of his You Are Here series, Dean describes his process as a study of space, a flow chart of one as a multitude. His process engages with the idea of the center being marginalized to the shifting role of the self as the pivotal point of view. If politics and culture are continually in flux - as we see in our reading of both the newspaper and flags - maybe the answer is found by looking inward to our individual positions and roles in order to make sense of the larger world. This play with scale, color, and meaning is the thread that binds Dean and Deleporte’s artworks together, giving us a loose set of guidelines for “reading” BLACK & WHITE & RED ALL OVER, one that is not bound by history, or anticipation of the future, but by an appreciation of aesthetic exchange in the present.