GERALD FERGUSON at Wynick/Tuck Gallery (401 Richmond West, #128), to February 24. 416- 504-8716. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Gerald Ferguson is intent on draining vain artistic intentions out of his work, creating a rich practice out of the most basic elements and materials.
His painting show 1000000 Grapes, at the National Gallery in 1999-2000, reproduced a stencil of grapes (taken from a Picasso still life) in 100 canvases.
It was an intriguing exercise in developing dense and often startlingly pleasing visual surfaces by the simplest mechanical means.
Ferguson's show at Wynick/Tuck extends this process to drain covers, using a different method, called frottage. He places unprimed canvas over an object and rubs the surface with black enamel. The results recall tombstone rubbings and similar artifacts of surface imprinting used in archaeology and scholarship.
In Nine Drain Covers, for instance, the images of nine round city drain covers are placed in a rough square. Drips and splatters from each rubbing accentuate and surround each image.
In Fifty-Five Drain Covers, a round drain cover is reiterated until it has blackened almost the entire surface of the canvas with a nest of ropy lines, while in Twenty-Two Drain Covers they're repeated and condensed into a visual Gordian knot at the centre.
The stringently workmanlike method and purely functional titles give these paintings a minimalist earnestness. They also convey some of the honed sensibility of Oriental brush painting in their use of placement and texture.
Drain covers are handsome things, and they lend themselves to the creation of dense, interesting patterns and lines. By stripping down the process of painting, Ferguson lets these urban surfaces speak for themselves.