Shaped canvases that deviate from a painting's conventional rectangular format became commonplace in 1960s abstract painting. They turn up again in new work by Matthew Carter – albeit in a wholly unexpected, challengingly original way.
At Luis de Jesus Gallery, seven large and three small paintings give shaped canvas a slyly expressive function that is very different from the almost sculptural, non-illusionistic formal motives of '60s abstraction.
Carter's shapes are made from stretcher bars that are broken, split and cobbled together. Sometimes the painting's otherwise flat surface bends slightly off the wall. He still emphasizes the painting as an object, just as his shaped-canvas predecessors did, but irregular shadows now suggest the object's eccentricity.
The paintings employ very thin, loosely woven linen, nearly as loose as cheesecloth. It pulls at points of stress in the stretchers and even begins to shred. Gauze bandages, splints and tourniquets come to mind.
Once, abstract painting was seen as art's most profound achievement. Here it performs as a magnificent invalid.
It's also something of a clown. With Carter's use of brightly colored diamond-shapes in acrylic, graphite and glitter – shapes that derive from the warping of a rectilinear grid – the circus is invoked as a modern artistic metaphor for life.
In one work, the sophisticated harlequin gets frankly brutish. The specter of Pogo the Clown, alter-ego of serial killer and rapist John Wayne Gacey, hovers in the gauze.
Mortality also lurks in "Acid bath," perhaps the strongest, albeit ricketiest painting. An anamorphic human skull floating near the bottom adds blue and silver glitter to a motif famously – and puzzlingly – employed by Hans Holbein in "The Ambassadors" (1533), his complex meditation on the tumultuous social transformations wrought at Henry VIII's radical court.
In his first solo show with the gallery, Carter deftly brings the modern world's tumult full circle.
Luis de Jesus Los Angeles, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 838-6000, through Aug. 23. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.luisdejesus.com