The critics of high modernism celebrated the painter’s mark upon the canvas, especially the first one -that initial splatter, spray, drip, zip. Such marks were indices and imprints, records of the artist’s singular vision and a testament to his creative genius. French painter Bernard Piffaretti, whose work was just exhibited at Cherry and Martin in Los Angeles, similarly employs a single, initiating mark down the center of the canvas, reminiscent of Barnett Newman, and bold colors and graphic marks like the abstract expressionists; however, the similarities end there. Piffaretti explodes the singularity of his own mark-making as he paints his collection of dashes, dots, and lines on one side of the canvas and then promptly duplicates it on the other side. The aura of originality and uniqueness is negated by the image’s repetition, bringing a conceptual framework to what initially seems to be straightforward abstract painting.
Almost all of the nine paintings on display in Piffaretti’s Moving Pictures exhibition feature this defining, dividing line with its original image and its duplicate. The title of the exhibition refers not only to the moving of the “picture” from one side of the canvas to the other, but to the cinema, with which Piffaretti has long been fascinated. The dual images appear as two frames of a film, only slightly different but different nonetheless. That difference can be gleaned close up, as from afar the images do indeed appear to be exact copies. Untitled (2015), which features a white background with four red circles on the points of a quadrant and a red checkmark in the middle, turns out to have two tiny drips of red paint in different places on the right and left side of the canvas. This is also the case in another Untitled (2015), an Ellsworth Kelly-esque piece that features a pistachio-colored dividing line and rounded shapes in Yves Klein blue undulating across the top and bottom of the white canvas; here, miniscule drips in various hues dot the canvas, undermining the impression of minimalist mimicry. Another Untitled (2015) is a jazzy, Frank-Stella-meets-Stuart-Davis composition of vertical lines with only the tiniest hint of disparity between the brushstrokes.
This sense of imperfection, as evinced in the drips, occasionally unevenly applied paint, and subtly ragged edges of shapes, manifests Piffaretti’s sense of humor as well as his keen engagement with the discourses of art history and philosophy. He clearly doesn’t want to take modernism too seriously, and finds contemporary resonance in the image’s repetition and replication; after all, our day-to-day lives are permeated by the repetition of signs and signifiers.
Piffaretti told an interviewer once that “Every painting crystallizes a survival and a rupture”. What makes Piffaretti so compelling is that he manages to embed this potent conceptual framework within abstract paintings beguiling in their simplicity and visual panache. He’s not heavy-handed or didactic; rather, he allows the viewer to come to this realization on his or her own as their eyes flit back and forth from one half of the work to the other, acknowledging the pleasing colors and shapes and coming to realize that Piffaretti’s work is both large, and contains multitudes.
Bernard Piffaretti: Moving Pictures April 2 – May 3, 2015
Cherry and Martin
2712 S. La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
Writing by Kristen Osborne-Bartucca
Photography provided by the gallery and the aritst