Dan Walsh at Paula Cooper Gallery

“Cedar II,” 2016, Dan Walsh
“Cedar II,” 2016, Dan Walsh, Drilled wood, pushpins, 181⁄4″ x 181⁄4″ x 1″
Photo: Steven Probert, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery

It is a pleasure to discover that Dan Walsh, an artist whose large-scale abstract paintings first came to wide public attention more than 20 years ago, still relishes experimentation. In fact, Walsh is so willing to expand his creative methods nowadays that anyone seeing this exhibition without knowing Walsh’s long distinguished career might imagine they had discovered a small group show bringing together a painter, a couple of sculptors, and the makers of wood reliefs and exquisite books.

This does not mean that Walsh has lost interest in the sort of not-quite-geometrical abstraction with which his name is most usually associated. There are seven outstanding paintings here that feature Walsh’s characteristic pictorial technique of establishing a visual rhythm and then insinuating variations or disruptions within it. The most striking of these is Debut (which, like everything else in the show except one ink drawing, is dated 2016). The basic pictorial unit is a long, horizontal band of sky blue. As your eye moves across these bands from top to bottom of the almost six foot high canvas, they not only shrink in length and width, they darken, and gain more pink and blue accents along their lower edges. Thus at some indeterminate point in the middle of the picture what began as an entirely flat arrangement of color and shape takes on a rather unsettling spatial illusion. Walsh has called pictorial space “the soul of a painting,” and the tricks he likes to play with implied space lie at the core of his current work. Thus his new drilled wood pieces are among the more intriguing things in the show. In these small panels Walsh does not trouble to imply depth, instead he uses a power drill to excavate actual depth beyond the surface of the wooden panel. The most intriguing of these is Cedar II, in which he complicates the final appearance by using different drill bits and adding rows of shiny pushpins. The finished piece looks very like a miniature three-dimensional rendering of one of his paintings. It is always a satisfying experience to leave an exhibition of an artist’s new work intrigued by the prospect of what they will do next. By that measure, this most recent Dan Walsh show might be judged an unqualified success.