To a painting layman like me, there seem to be two large movements in painting in the greater Bushwick scene, graphic abstraction and what Loren Munk might call crappy paintings. Both feel a tad retrograde, reveling in the last time abstraction was in vogue in the late 70’s and early 80’s, right before and after painting died. There are certainly people doing both at a high level that has breathed new life into two stale constructs, but generally graphic abstraction feels safe, in that it is almost always attractive and for the most part succeeds solely on the quality of color use. I tend to find crappy paintings more interesting or at least, the more challenging of the two. By crappy paintings, I mean paintings that often have a conceptual limitation built into their creation (even if it is only a lack of studio space), combined with engaging with the materiality of the paint that is so sculptural in nature that it often results in surfaces that are more physically engaging then visually attractive. Both strands of painting seem to show up in almost every group show in Bushwick, one clean and precise, the other opulent and rushed, but both celebrating the left-for-dead land of abstract painting.
Mike Olin, on first pass, rises above the herd. His paintings feel rushed, chaotic, and involve a lot of muddied colors that I think might place them in the class of crappy paintings (a term I in no way mean disparagingly), but the glimpses of figurative gestures and the detritus sprinkled into the paint hint at a process that is very calculated, almost downright sneaky. It takes a second to get past the clutter in the work that seems to owe more to artistic romanticism of Pollock and de Kooning than to more recent process-based art. When you see through the haze of brushwork and find the repeating representation of eyeglasses or thick pieces of literal pieces of glass in the paint that start to form a little narrative. Aided by the occasional vandalized baseball card inserted into the paint, I found it hard not to image Olin as a child, saddled with glasses and lack of coordination.
But once I started reading into the Gustonesque hints of narration in the painting I noticed the 3-D glasses casually placed next to the image list. Sure enough, with the aid of the glasses, the paintings are very much in 3-D or, as was explained to me, they’re just normal paintings but 3-D glasses tend to make lots of abstract paintings look 3-D. But I digress. Olin’s work in 3-D becomes a whole other beast, where the wisps of inky black go from marring a cream backdrop to floating like smoke over an endless white abyss. The 3-D starts to overcome the dumbness of your eyes and their tendency to see abstract paintings as flattened out on the canvas, as opposed to seeing them as windows into an infinite space. Oh, and word is, the closing will involve black lights, no, seriously.