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Taaffe painting Orphic Landscape
Taaffe painting Orphic Landscape

Philip Taaffe, Orphic Landscape II, 2016. Mixed media on canvas © Philip Taaffe; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

In this third solo exhibition at the gallery, Philip Taaffe continues to pursue an elegant and precise aggregate of images and technique. A nature/culture dialectic is expanded as wide, it would seem, as Taaffe’s curiosity demands. Both historically and geographically, sources of color and motif multiply and recombine from painting to painting, inclusive of symbols, decorative elements, design, and plant forms. What is consistent is that the paintings, as paintings, are anchored through composition and gesture to arrive somewhere here between Paul Klee and Jackson Pollock. The endlessly inventive surface—always abutting the material support—remains frontal and carpeted in pulsating and shifting patterns. Visual depth is continuously variegated with the use of flat silhouetted shapes in a varying succession of planes, that are overlapping and rhythmical.

Taaffe brings a vivid contemporaneity to the references and images he employs through his approach, which ranges between gestural painting, silk-screening, photographic transfer and stenciling. Motifs appear from many sources including natural history volumes, museums, and travel. When these motifs are reassembled in new configurations, new life, both conceptual and visual, emerges—cross currents through and between cultures and traditions produce provocative constellations. Take the first painting encountered at the gallery, Orphic Landscape II (2016). Like the scattered paper pieces of one of Jean Arp’s early 1930s experiments with chance—torn paper dropped on a sheet of paper as composition—the shapes in this painting have found their place and orientation intuitively, though, the arrangement is likely finely tuned and considered. Perhaps the title itself indicates a musical scene as Orpheus was said to be able to make animals in the landscape dance before him. Representations of Orpheus in Roman mosaics, where he is surrounded by trees and animals, also recall Taaffe’s painting. I also think of John Cage’s compositions, such as those that pay attention to silence, the sounds of objects in the concert hall, and of course his use of chance during the writing process, influenced by Eastern philosophies.

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