Running in Place

Paintings make time stop at Busta Gallery

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If watching dry paint were nearly as boring as watching paint dry, everybody would put on weird glasses, and 3D technology could just take over. But so far this hasn't (quite) happened. For one thing, artists keep rethinking what it means to make symbolic objects. For another, painted marks are of inherent interest to the interpretive structures of the human eye and brain. As Leonardo noted long ago, we are able mentally to "see" all sorts of things, even in random stains.

"They're moving very fast," says artist Matt Kolodziej about the hyperactive surfaces of his acrylic and ink paintings. Kolodziej's restless materials, oozing and pooling, are literal examples of the action of natural forces, evoking larger processes of growth and decay, accumulation and dispersal. What the painter calls "micro-gestures" hurry color and texture along, ebbing across the canvas in Kolodziej's twitchy lines as if spilling out of makeshift conduits. Fleeting proto-imagery flows through crisscrossing intersections and down the cul-de-sacs of diagram-like compositions, which are often based on photographs of demolition sites.

Like Leonardo's stains, these works are neither abstract nor representational but suggest content on the basis of psychological phenomena like projection and reverie.

And yet not so much, maybe — and this point of doubt is where Kolodziej gets even more interesting. Though he uses warm, attractive colors, especially earth tones, he thins his paint so that it puddles like solder or enamel, drying to a smooth, liquid sheen and reading more as a functional event than a representational gesture. He says he thinks of this technique as a kind of mold making, as if he had made an archeological cast of the scene he represents. He talks about digging, about gravity and geology. His impulse is close to a scientific idea of measurement or sampling, and his techniques are analytical in tone, rather than pictorial or personal, spreading essential qualities of real things on canvas or panel as if on a glass slide.

The show of Kolodziej's small and large works at William Busta Gallery is titled Accumulations. In recent years, this has become a familiar fine-arts term, referring to marks or actions as they accrete and end up in a heap, often in a gallery setting. A sense of elapsed time is built into that notion: As art uses time, it squeezes and flattens it, like a paint tube. The large-scale 2009 "Kirkos," based on studies of the 1997 demolition of the Boston Gardens arena, is like a casting made from the husks of public minutes or years, sensed at some greatly abstracted remove, with something of the drama of a Last Judgment. And independent of the scale of individual works, Kolodziej's magisterial vision quickly closes distances between present sensation and untouchable, eternal vistas.

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