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Lucas Reiner
by Steve Mumford

Lucas Reiner, RUST, 1996

Lucas Reiner presents five recent paintings elegantly displayed at Tricia Collins--Grand Salon this April. The similarly-sized paintings (6-1/2 x 5-1/2 feet) are each named after a substance from which the title of the show was derived.

Charles Riley remarks in his essay from the accompanying catalog, that at first glance these works could be mistaken for color field paintings. Indeed, conceptual issues aside, they are color field paintings, but with a few key ingredients added. To quote Riley again, Reiner casts his net wider.

Each painting/substance was illustrated by its appropriate, if generic, hue. That the colors are so obviously stereotyped to their substances (almost like water = blue) at first seems lightweight. It reminded me of those cloying names for common colors one sees in J. Crew catalogs--moss, stone, oatmeal. In an alchemist's laboratory one might expect to be surprised by the color of piss--a lot of piss--perhaps, a horrible clear orange. But Reiner isn't exactly going the route of artist/shaman in these works. It's not the ur-substance he seems to be after, so much as the collective cliché in our memories that's invested with humor as much as any other emotion. This is a southern California take on the German romantic get-down-and-dirty-school. Unlike Beuys's greasy slabs of fat and felt, or Keifer's fire-scorched straw and tar, in Reiner we have the alchemy of suburban childhood and TV commercials. Ancestor-worship and racial memories go no deeper than one generation. Reiner's alchemist is, in fact, a stand-up comic with a subtly-penetrating American brand of humor.

In rust, the many hues of brownish-reds coalesce and bloom at random in an all-over composition. But faintly one reads the hilarious and poignant inscription: "I think I can... I think," iron-willing itself up that hill, the aged metal that could. Likewise, milk ii, with its many hues of white pigment and yellow-white glazes quietly implores us: "don't cry."

This subtle wit somehow doesn't trip over the aesthetic/conceptual gambit. Perhaps it's the one really salient feature of these paintings although it's the least immediate. As color field paintings they don't completely convince--for saturated paint surface I'd sooner go to the source, say Poons, or Olitsky. But in this quirky melding of genres, Reiner locates a wry voice that wins you over.

Steve Mumford

New York, New York

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