Born in 1962 in England, Carl Fudge was educated both there and here, in America. For some time, he has been based in New York, where he has taught, as well as showing at more than a few well-established American venues, including the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the New Museum. His current works take the monochromatic artwork and push it slightly into the direction of technology, if only a little. And his prints, which look like they were formed as well from high technology, present a (mostly) black-and-white orientation—pixels that key into each other with the technical accuracy of a jigsaw puzzle. Other prints reiterate the black dominating the artwork, but they have small additions—fragments of squares, diminutive red cubes–that enliven the single—color orientation of the overall gestalt. Now at a high point in his mid-career, Fudge shows us how lessons of the recent past can be transformed—how the monochromatic surface can be furthered and enlivened by small changes, even ones advanced first on the computer monitor.
The monochromatic pieces are not entirely so. Very slight changes in the texture of the pixels adds difference for those viewers who look closely, and there are also some very small changes in color tone. In fact, the black works are made up of different grades of sandpaper, whose surface differences are small but evident in the art. The sandpaper is cut to fit the size of the pixel, and are then affixed to the wooden surface behind it. The longish, narrowish two-panel diptych, entitled “Two Ways About It” (2018) creates a complicated counterpoint in their interaction with each other—being spaced only a couple of inches apart. The pixels in the two panels demonstrate considerable variety in the light black and dark black pixels covering each compositional plane. They require close looking, as well as a measured view, to assimilate and tell apart the subtle variations facing Fudge’s viewer. Sometimes the dimensions of the pixels are arbitrarily doubled from one work to the next, but the overall experience is the same: a crossword puzzle of black squares whose minute changes demand both a sharp eye and an equally acute intelligence to make sense of. The diptych and other works relate to minimalism and monochromatic art, movements no longer in fashion but which are practiced, even now, with more than small success by individual artists like Fudge himself. The work belongs to a rigorous formalism, brought to the fore more than a generation—or two—ago. They might be dismissed as out of touch, but that would not do justice to their achievement, as well as the ongoing presence and need for an art that addresses visual principles in original ways—however extreme they may be. This happens in the diptych, as well as in the other pieces and in Fudge’s show generally.
Fudge is also a graphic artist of unusual skill and achievement. In the woodcut titled “Signal Not Found 1” (2016-17), we can see the artist work out a complex black-and-white pattern of pixel squares—so complex, in fact, it is impossible to ascribe an overall scheme to the image. The strength—and the fault—of work like this is its obvious adherence to an outside technical system of communication, one in which the right angles of the pixels remain so and do not necessarily cohere. In Fudge’s image, though, and in the small set on view in the gallery, he manages to transform technical advances into something approaching visual bravado, even as he adheres closely to the usual pattern of alternating squares of light and dark. The power of the two-choice arrangement in the woodcut is such that it allows for a real sense of technical force—nothing is more dramatic than a black-and-white scheme. But there is something lost too; it is possible to see the work as too rational, too technologically scientific, although for this viewer such an experience did not occur. Still, the possibility remains. In the color screen-print, whose name is “Display No. 8” (2018), the addition of red to the pixels gives the image a complexity that evades the black-and-white works; its overall pattern feels entirely random, rigorously arranged without making particular sense. This opposition, a structural butting of the heads, makes it a memorable image. Like the black-and-white woodcuts, it mesmerizes to the point of disorienting the viewer, whose view has no overall shortcut to make sense of it.
The last work to be mentioned, a unique screen-print from 2018 called “Display No. 9”, is a smallish black work punctuated by small red, green, and white horizontal lines—hyphens, really—and a very few small red and green squares. These tiny embellishments have the effect of enlivening the single-color background, while at the same time reinforcing the generally rational sense of the grid that structures much, if not most, of Fudge’s work. The piece plays off minimalist concerns in ways that both look back to and ahead of the movement, which finds itself on its last legs at this point in time. But even though the impulse of minimal art is mostly moribund, it is true that artists like Fudge keep it alive in light of their inspired use of detail and technological advance. We are living in a time of extreme pluralism visually, and there is a general rejection of work that harkens back to an earlier period. But that does not mean that precedents cannot be made new in the hands of inspired craftsmen. One senses in general that Fudge is a meticulous artist, someone whose sense of precision acts as an aid to his larger view. The ways and means available to artists today have leaped in numbers beyond count, giving us a likeness of the technical range before us in fine art. At the same time, Fudge is a strong enough maker of images to move ahead to a place where these earlier influences are subsumed in light of new points of view, which bring us from the past into the present and the future. One can only hope that the subtle intricacies Fudge brings to the table do not go unnoticed—he is a highly able practitioner of his craft, something often lost today to rhetoric and intellectual positioning.