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Taaffe painting “Holothurian Passages”
Taaffe painting “Holothurian Passages”

Philip Taaffe, Holothurian Passages (2019), mixed media on canvas (©Philip Taaffe, courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York)

Taaffe is able to bring the exterior, visible world as well as the interior imagined world into his paintings. To me, this is what distinguishes him from his contemporaries.

In 1895, the poet and translator Stephane Mallarme wrote, “Everything in the world exists to end up in a book.” In 2004, Klaus Scherübel, following the dimensions Mallarme specified in his notes, produced a dust jacket that wrapped around a block of Styrofoam, suggesting that the poet’s ideal was impossible to realize. In 2018, Exact Change published the first translation of Mallarme’s notes and drafts for The Book, which is 240 pages long.

One could say that Mallarme’s book exists somewhere between these two versions, one full of unrealized preparations and the other closed and complete. These images of Mallarme came to mind while I was walking around the exhibition Philip Taaffe at Luhring Augustine.

An artist who emerged in the early 1980s, Taaffe is arguably the only artist of his generation to have expanded the parameters of painting and mastered a wide range of minor art forms, such as marbling, without settling into a signature style. As someone who has written a number of catalogue essays and a monograph on this artist, I am still surprised by the lines of inquiry his work prompts, and the various arcane paths I find myself going down.

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