Review: Mark Dutcher layers on organic rhythms at Coagula Projects

Mark Dutcher, "Transfer," 2013, at at Coagula Projects.
(Coagula Projects)

Together, Joan Mitchell and Jasper Johns would seem to be an unlikely pair of inspirations for a new body of paintings, but there they are hovering in the background of 10 lovely recent works by Mark Dutcher.

Two kinds of nominal handwriting -- gestural abstraction and a recognizable vocabulary of painted signs -- slip and slide across the surfaces of his canvases, as if perpetually merging and fading away.

Most of Dutcher’s paintings at Coagula Curatorial are of a size (4 ½ feet tall) that informally positions a viewer a bit more than an arm’s length away, as if stepping back to size up painted marks made in a variety of colors on the canvas. Intimate, those marks include thick slathers, thinned stains and layered strokes -- both purposeful and random but none of them figurative -- together with letters of the alphabet that may or may not cohere into words (“death,” “transfer” and “lost” among them).

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The thicket of painted marks hangs on the armature of a grid, either horizontal or turned to a 45-degree angle. The layering yields a sense of organic rhythms spreading across a formal structure, like vines growing on a trellis. The two panels in “Transfer,” the show’s strongest work, even seem to loosely mirror each other, like an abstract, light-infused Mitchell “landscape” improbably crossed with a Johns “Corpse and Mirror.”

Mitchell and Johns might not have been specific inspirations for Dutcher’s works, but their very different styles of painting both emerged in response to a dominant artistic ethos in the early and mid-1950s (in their case, Abstract Expressionism). In varying ways, their shared goal was to turn a governing visual language into something highly personal and distinctive; that’s what Dutcher also achieves in the show’s best works.

Coagula Curatorial, 974 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (424) 262-4852, through Oct. 19. Closed Sun. through Tue.