This exhibition presents hand-painted monochromatic images by Yigal Ozeri of photographs of a woman taken from different angles, and grids of distressed surfaces and gestural marks by Eugene Lemay. One’s initial response to seeing these works together might be to conclude that this joint exhibition is meant to be an exercise in contrast. However, this would be a mistake, a determination based solely on the works’ differing appearances. Pitting the mimetic against the abstract would be a meaningless didactic exercise in today’s world. After all, Andy Warhol unified these differing practices in the ’60s by silk-screening patterns of Ben-Day dots, which effectively reproduced a degraded photographic image onto a monochrome or abstract background.
Though the commonalities of Lemay and Ozeri’s works are to be found in their relationship to the photographic, it is necessary to acknowledge that their works are respectively rooted in Minimalism and Pop Art’s concern for mechanical reproduction. Likewise, each seeks to express the personal within this context. The artists achieve this goal by initially stripping, or suppressing, Minimalism and Pop Art’s industrial aesthetic and commercial content. In their way, Lemay and Ozeri employ a lyrical aesthetic and subjectivity. Subsequently, their works are not conceptually reducible to the logic and history of their stylistic affinities. Instead, each artist deploys these strategies as a series of decontextualized, ahistorical practices.
If one looks closely at Lemay’s work, one may discover remnants of text or letterforms. We have no idea for whom these obliterated missives are intended, or why they are endlessly repeated and obscured. We come to project onto them, wondering if they represent some mania or obsessive thought in the maker’s mind, and ask why they are repeated over and over again until they are dissolved into illegible scrawls.
Lemay’s work is a far cry from Ozeri’s studies of a young woman set against an empty backdrop, each image taken from a different angle, as if the photographer were walking around his subject while she attempts to avoid his gaze. The starkness of her surroundings echoes her emotional inwardness. Who might she be: a model, an actress, an acquaintance, a lover? She is as cryptic as the obscured messages in Lemay’s prints. If Lemay and Ozeri’s imagery tells us anything, it is that they have secrets—secrets that their artwork refuses to divulge. As in Samuel Beckett’s plays and John Cage’s compositions, theirs is a silence that gives way to observation and attentiveness.
Both Lemay and Ozeri’s work leaves one with a sense that embedded in each is some inaccessible thing. Thus their work is not as revealing as it first appears to be—not because some essential part has been left out on purpose, but precisely the inverse. Their work intentionally lacks a clear subject; we can never determine if their works are about painting, about representation, about desire, or even about how these things affect one another. From this absence of explicitness, we should not infer that they do not have something to say. What they have to express emerges from a field of events, where momentary singularities arise and then dissolve. In other words, these works do not offer up a didactic interpretation of their subjects, but facilitate space for speculation.
While the artists may view their audiences similarly, one is a classicist and the other is a romantic. One believes that there is a natural, objective Platonic order to the world; the other believes that order is subjective and imposed. Therefore, their understanding and rhetorical deployment of the various devices and relationships discussed here are meant to lead to differing ends. For instance, though Lemay’s works may be endlessly expanded, there is never anything outside the frame. Conversely, Ozeri’s images are always a fragment of some ever-expanding world. His images represent an incident that ultimately includes the viewer outside the frame. As such, Ozeri’s paintings invite viewers to enter into a world defined by ephemerality, aloofness, and eroticism, while in Lemay’s work we find ourselves confronted with a wall of compulsiveness, maudlin materiality, and obsessive accumulation. As we take in these aspects, our personal memories are stimulated. Unlike what we see, these ineffable experiences open up a space of reflection, where the artworks come to exist and express their “self.”