2.3 / Review

New Works by Josh Podoll

By Danielle Sommer October 8, 2010

If nothing else, Josh Podoll’s new paintings at Ping Pong Gallery impress based on the number of painting techniques they feature: drawing, dripping, masking, daubing, airbrushing, and impasto, to name a few. Add to this an intense mix of colors—black, white, and gray, combined with bright yellow, spring green, ruddy pink, deep red, and a creamy turquoise—and chaos should reign. It should, but it doesn’t. Instead, Podoll’s work is contemplative, even meditative.

All of Podoll’s new works are untitled, and all start with the same process. Podoll’s first step is to add an absorbent ground to his canvas; this mimics the effects of watercolor paper and causes his first few paint strokes to leech into the canvas in an unalterable fashion. Glancing around the gallery, one can pick out the shapes made by these first marks. They look like the storm clouds one often finds in children’s drawings, hovering between foreground and background in each painting, entangled with a variety of geometric and organic shapes of all sizes and textures.

Podoll’s largest painting, an untitled piece from 2010, teems with a variety of forms and colors. A lemon rectangle balances on a transparent lavender circle. A light pink, impasto triangle sits in front of the circle, atop a square that can only be described as an homage to Josef Albers. 

Untitled, 2010; oil and acrylic on canvas; 60 x 48 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ping Pong Gallery, San Francisco.

Untitled, 2010; oil and acrylic on canvas; 58 x 78 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ping Pong Gallery, San Francisco.

But whereas Albers’ concentric squares maintain clean, well-defined edges, Podoll’s gradations are smooth and softly blurred, an effect indicative of airbrushing. A red, white, and blue impasto squiggle snakes across the upper left quadrant of the square, only to be eclipsed by another airbrushed shape—a gray-and-white-striated oval with stepped edges. It looks pixilated, but Podoll creates these shapes the old-fashioned way, with masking tape. Scrawls and daubs occur randomly. Taken altogether, the painting should overwhelm or fall apart. So why doesn’t it?

It helps that Podoll does not fill his canvases; instead, he leaves plenty of white space, which allows for plenty of breathing room. Just as useful, however, is the manner in which Podoll allows for a sense of deep space, an effect he achieves through several methods. First, he abruptly juxtaposes super-flat forms and super-thick ones. More interestingly, Podoll creates a series of portals within the paintings. The airbrushed ovals open into three-dimensional space, only to flatten out again as they get too close to their subject matter. The Albers-esque squares repeat throughout the paintings, adding an extra layer of depth through their appearance as windows into the history of abstraction.

Podoll’s work provides yet another example of how abstraction has moved far, far beyond Greenberg. Neither gestural nor flat, it is altogether new. It alludes to representation without containing any and refuses to let the viewer locate his or herself. The influence of Photoshop on this form of abstraction is also obvious. The techniques of masking, layering, and flattening that Podoll uses to achieve his effects have many visual similarities to a collaged, digital image.

In a 2006 interview for Feature Inc, Podoll stated, “The eye sees one type of space and then abruptly moves into another type. As the mind tries to read the new type of space, there is a little gap or break. This is where the meditation comes in.” Four years later, Podoll’s self-evaluation remains astute. His work generously offers itself as a space for contemplation, not only of the nature of contemporary abstraction but of the meditative moments we can find in the everyday chaos of life.


New Works by Josh Podoll is on view at Ping Pong Gallery, in San Francisco, through October 15, 2010.

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