Jim Isermann. “Weaves” at Richard Telles Fine Art.
The American penchant for confrontational art may explain why Jim Isserman has remained a localized figure within the Los Angeles scene: While the set up of conflicts and reversals of hierarchical criteria affecting prevalent aesthetic judgments has become commonplace, Isserman’s art is concerned with rapport rather than vindication, with continuity rather than rupture, with subtlety rather than overstatement, and as such it has been slow to develop and, yes, mature.
Isserman describes his early Jetsons-inspired furniture as dealing with the transformations that modernist artworks elicited on popular taste, and in turn with the reciprocal changes this shift in taste produced in the art. Fusing formalist elegance with Pop liveliness, Isserman’s constructions were easily mistaken for design, evoking an easy-listening take on Duchamp’s urinal. But instead of following the fashionable way of critique, six years ago Isserman began to produce successive bodies of craft-intensive bidimensional arrangements reminiscent of both post-painterly abstraction and psychedelia, in the form of shags, glass-windows, quilts and, most recently, cotton weaves.
It turns out Isserman, like a traditional artist, believes the force of a successful artwork lies in “work”, that is in the artistic transformation of materials and colors. In his later series, manual work is not just visible but becomes vision — his materials dissolve into patterns and colors set into play-mode by the eye. Yet his is not an update of Op-Art: One must make an effort to disengage, for instance, the visual concordance from the tactile contrasts in the half-paintings/half-shags shag-paintings. His glass-windows and quilts would be perfectly charming as house furnishings, their intricate labor showing off as expensive stuff; but in the gallery they become truly engaging paintings that happen not to be made of paint. While these may still be made out to involve a high art vs. handicrafts dichotomy, Isserman’s new cotton weaves announce a new phase.
Isserman’s weaves recall patterned kitchen-rags rather than some familiar hobby-crafted article. In fact, they would surely prove excellent for drying dishes and wiping off counter-tops. But seen extended on the evenly lighted white wall, these otherwise-rags captivate our sight; each colored strand joining in horizontal and vertical rhythms that reverberate throughout the surface. Strangely enough, the patterns are simple and yet thoroughly hypnotic: The eye is seduced in the fussy color mixtures produced by the intertwined stitches, an optical effect we’ve naturalized in pointillism and offset printing, but which least expect to find within something as crude a rag. By de-materializing his weaves, Isserman produced reverse readymades: artworks that not only loose their well-earned aesthetic force outside the context of art, but also blend in with the world as common artifacts. This accomplishment runs in the face of the Duchampian iconoclasts who delight in critiquing aesthetic categories, as well as of those who still place their bets in the museum without walls. Notwithstanding their straightforward simplicity, Isserman’s cotton-weaves have in them the whole of modern art, digested in order to perform aesthetically while radiating a sense of ease about what, where and with whom they are.