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THE FIRST TIME I SAW ONE OF LARRY ABRAMSON'S PAINTINGS, MY IMMEDIATE reaction was: "No. You can't do that." I was looking at his 1999 composition, Elyakim Chalakim 1, which struck me not as a modernist collage but as a collision of disparate elements that refused to synthesize yet insisted on appearing together, as if forced to co-exist by a pure act of arbitrary artistic will. And the collisions struck me as not merely iconographic (the abstract black square and the representational figure, a generic emblem of a cutout crescent moon). There were also the fiat black-and-white forms against a further bifurcated background of broad horizontal and vertical strokes; a single broad stroke curving down from the black square and returning to it, appearing again at the top of the square, as if a kind of embryonic or fetal-shaped form was behind the square, a pod nestled between the vertical and horizontal swipes. And then this fetal form, obviously painted in one bold gesture before the application of the black square/white crescent overlay, seemed to be sprouting something at both extremities: below, a tentative, hesitant gesture of narrow, branching strokes, like legs or roots reaching down but not finding a ground to stand or plant themselves; above, a translucent oval shape in which a tangled rhizomatic duster of barren branches appears, as if cocooned in a nimbus or aureole. Meanwhile, extraordinarily thin streaks or dribbles of paint run (mostly) vertically down the canvas, suggesting (especially at the lower edge of the black square) a kind of drainage, as if the square had "wounded" the fetal form beneath, and left it leaking blood or amniotic fluid. Finally, just when I thought I had taken note of everything, my eye picked up stray horizontal strokes at the left and fight edges, suggesting a space beyond everything in this multilayered surface. And above all, fight at the center of the black square, heretofore unnoticed, a tiny flaw, a quasi-organic shape: a starfish or perhaps an illegible stain, like one of those anamorphic apparitions that disrupt the perspectival order of Renaissance painting. (1) In this thick and rather naive description I have been following Michel Foucault's advice to "pretend not to know" the proper names and labels to apply to a painting; the point of this pretense, Foucault explains, is to use a tentative, provisional and almost "anonymous" language in the encounter with a painting, before rushing to the safety of art historical tags for style, iconography, emblematics, and, for lack of a better word, meaning. I do this because I think the painting, however knowing and learned its author, solicits an obtuse reading of the sort I have proposed, one that does not know how to read what has been stroked and inscribed and drawn and affixed to this canvas. The painting seems to resist any single template of unification, and shimmers between alternative "aspects" which "dawn" (as Wittgenstein would put it) only to be displaced and shattered. These registers of visibility are compounded by disparate modes of legibility that simultaneously invite a decoding (the black square as a token of abstract modernism, specifically Malevich) and a re-encoding or encryption (the tiny blemish on the black square) that resist decipherment.

Professional & Technical
December 22
Boston University
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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