Squeak Carnwath

Squeak Carnwath Ledisflam Gallery 130 Prince Street SoHo Through Oct. 2

Art that looks as if it was produced by an angry, precocious child is one of the hallmarks of the last few years, although the work of the California painter Squeak Carnwath has been assuming this posture since the 1970’s.

The five paintings in this show find Ms. Carnwath in good and characteristic form. She builds up layers of pigment so that her colors bleed up from beneath, and her wide surfaces have the rich patina of often-painted walls. Small, crudely rendered body parts — feet, ears, genitals — float like bits of graffiti, and one painting has at its center the outline of an immense human head filled with imprints of the artist’s hands.

Ms. Carnwath’s early use of words in her paintings also anticipated a current trend among younger artists, although in content and tone her texts are distinctly her own. In “What Is Blue” they are part of an elaborate cataloguing game, which includes lists of nouns with blue associations, such as skies, blood, laws and ribbons. Elsewhere, sentences printed in a sprawling, infantile scrawl have the sound of exhortations. “There are secrets in everyday breath,” reads one painting, while another says: “The phone rings. It is a wakeup call to be the one who is awake.” Ms. Carnwath’s anxious, inspirational messages, like the very beautiful colors in her paintings, seem meant to be taken at face value, and at a time when irony is coin of the realm in art, their adamant guilelessness has a refreshing ring.
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