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Abstract painting with blue, purple and green marks
Abstract painting with blue, purple and green marks

Philip Taaffe, "Prior Pedro" (2022), mixed media on panel, 14 1/8 inches x 26 1/8 inches (all images © Philip Taaffe; photos by Farzad Owrang, courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York)

It seems Taaffe is looking at the present as an extinction event, and that one purpose of painting is to bequeath some record of history and time to the future.

I have previously likened Philip Taaffe to a scholar-alchemist, a scribe, a seer, and an inducer of trance states in a digital age. A technical master who has used techniques as distinct as marbling, decalcomania, silkscreen, linocuts, collage, stencils, and rubber stamps in his work, Taaffe described his art to the great visionary filmmaker Stan Brakhage as “a sort of crystallized cinema.” The surface of a crystal reflects its internal symmetry, while film is a membrane through which light passes. As I see it, Taaffe wants to synthesize symmetry and layers to attain an in-between state, as in the process of change. In that world, ornamental and fossil patterns become significant forms, while printmaking and collage take on the character of painting. From early on, there was something fresh and challenging about Taaffe, who did not rely on gesture and geometry, New York school standbys, to make large, ambitious works.

In his current exhibition, Philip Taaffe at Luhring Augustine Tribeca (November 12–December 22, 2022), I found that the artist had developed a new graphic technique in his work during the pandemic.


I have always thought of Taaffe as an artist who went down the rabbit hole, digging deeper and deeper into a subject and proceeding to make unlikely and imaginative connections. His current exhibition confirmed my feelings. He mostly eschews the large-scale works with which he is quite comfortable, instead showing around 50 panels and works on paper, all dated 2021 or ’22. A number of them are columnar, measuring around six feet tall but less than six inches wide. Others are works on paper that measure no more than nine by nine inches. Each grouping seemed to emerge from one of Taaffe’s sustained explorations into the relationship between image and process, figure and ground. Compositionally, he is interested in symmetry, or mirroring, and collapsing the figure-ground relationship so much that it becomes difficult to discern one from the other, an interest that is not purely formal.

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