Issue #177
We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat October 28, 2011

Aaron Parazette
North Swell (Installation view at Dallas Contemporary)
2011
Courtesy of the artist and Dallas Contemporary
Photo credit: Kevin Todora

View Gallery

Aaron Parazette

Dallas Contemporary

Through December 4
by Benjamin Lima

At the Dallas Contemporary, Aaron Parazette’s exhibition is installed on the two long walls that run along the space’s north and south sides. Eastern light comes in from the glass wall at the front of the gallery, and southern light from a row of clerestory windows along the length of the wall above the featured mural. At the back of the space is a reading area with couches, a coffee table with stacks of surfing magazines, and a few strategically placed catalogs of work by Al Held, Jo Baer, Kenneth Noland and Blinky Palermo, all of which provide contextual clues to the artist’s background.

The focal point of the exhibition is North Swell (2011), a mural on the south wall, about ten feet by sixty feet. A time-lapse video of its creation is on YouTube. This is a concatenation of polygons in shades of gray, anchored by orthogonally aligned rectangles that define the highest and lowest points of the painting, where it is tallest and shortest. These rectangles are connected to each other by diagonals that give the upper and lower edges of the composition an interrupted zig-zag pattern. This makes the anchor rectangles appear to be pushing in and out of the picture plane. However, such a perspectival reading of the shapes is ultimately frustrated because the diagonals that lead back from the rectangles do not terminate in the kind of central horizon line that this interpretation would predict. Instead, the upper and lower formations are joined directly to each other by lines that create a series of four- and five-sided polygons that run along the middle section of the work. The unresolved polarity between the apparent depth of the upper and lower edges, and the flatness of the middle section, creates a tension that continues along the length of the painting. Following the alternation of darks and lights along the whole length of the painting produces a pulsing sense of rhythm and energy. The vast horizontal sweep contrasts with the shorter, alternating vertical expansions and contractions, creating a sense of dynamism in both dimensions.

Opposite this is a row of fifteen acrylic word paintings, with dimensions between three and seven feet, that date from 2004 to the present. They are generated by taking a single word of surfer slang set in Helvetica type, then stretching and shuffling the component letters to the point of being distorted and out of order. The edges of the letterforms are given extra definition by a layered outline that sets them off from the background, termed “pinlines” after the same decorative element in surfboard design. In Groovy (2011), blue-green edges surround pink forms, while Spinner (2008) has red-orange pinlines on a green background. The most striking elements are those that approach complete abstraction, such as the oval dot on the ‘i’ in Boink (2007) and the elongated ascenders and descenders (the vertical stalks on the d and p) in Side Slip (2005) and Shacked (2004). With the longer words, such as Indicator and Spinner (both 2008), the letters pile up on top of one another in a pleasing jumble; while the shorter words, as in Jet and Axe (both 2006), take on a monumental simplicity.

Only Gone (2011) is dominated by the kind of cool blues that offer a sense of tranquility and absorption, as if you ‘d just taken a dive into the ocean itself. Others explore clearly synthetic combinations—the green, pink and brown in Side Slip, for example—suggesting that a communion with nature is not the ultimate object of the surfing references. Instead, the work, with its perfectly crisp edges and clean colors, invites us to enjoy the pleasure of the purely synthetic, much as man-made materials—polyurethane foam, polyester resin and fiberglass—give a modern surfboard its perfect shape.

Benjamin Lima is assistant professor of art history at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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