FOCUS: Jeff Elrod at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is a small survey of paintings made over the past 15 years. It’s telling for Elrod’s aesthetic project that the earliest painting in the show is titled Endgame (1994). When you begin at the finish line, where do you go next?
And yet, Endgame actually does suggest a way forward. The painting is a simple abstract composition in which a blue field, interrupted by a vertical white band, encroaches onto hand-painted, pixilated critters derived from the Space Invaders video game. The slightly bent, Barnett Newman-like “zip” in the color field clearly references the discourse of post-war American painting with all its serious heroics. The sublime is now, remember. The comic digital monsters evoke other, less grandiose referents which —even if they aren’t exactly “now” anymore (the game was already antiquated in 1994) — have more in common with youthful pastimes than they do with the historical significance of 1950s abstraction.
Numerous pictorial and poetic possibilities arose as Elrod worked his way through the tensions between painting, considered as an important cultural expression, and the implications of digital-age image making technologies. Elrod created Endgame, in part, as an imitation of a computer screen. In time he turned to computer graphics as a direct source for his iconography.
In the Fort Worth show, a wall drawing titled Delete (1997-2009) presents the title’s command scrawled in shaky capital letters across a galumphing brown and blue 1970s-style “supergraphic” gesture. The drawing’s forms originated in a computer program and the tension between the hand-painted image and its source in binary code drives the work’s meaning. The curious twelve-year span of the work’s date also indicates something about its state of being: Delete lives in code on some hard drive or CD-ROM until it is materialized to meet the needs of the artist and a curator.
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