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Organic Forming



Eric Dimas

at Standard, through October 21

By Fred Camper

There's a startling drama to Eric Dimas's six untitled abstract paintings at Standard. Even in those with a relatively even texture, his shapes seem to be colliding, asserting themselves, obliterating one another--they seem to have a life of their own, as in much of the best abstract work.

But Dimas's imagery lacks the emotional, mythological, and spiritual references of earlier abstract work--and all its world-inventing pretensions. Instead his surfaces recall nature: the patterns in tree rings or fingerprints, the textures of leaves, wood, or human skin. The stunning green globules that bubble up from a greenish field of oval grains reminded me of lava; one can almost feel the surface tension that sustains real bubbles in these two-dimensional illusions. In perhaps the most striking painting, a small band of red at the lower right splays out and rises to the top of the panel, its color heightened by a very dark green background. At the center the red is solid, but near the edges darkness intrudes: red flecks look like sparks flying off a campfire or fragments of fire from a volcanic eruption. The shapes of the flecks and of the band also suggest a bird's plumage, but in any case it seems that forms are actively coming into being, viewed at the moment of creation.

Dimas's process is one reason the viewer senses dramas of collision and creation. He begins by mixing enamel paint with clear resin and applying it to Lucite panels. In the red-and-dark-green painting, he poured red paint over the green, and when the resin dried first, the red paint broke up. In others, such as the green bubbly one, Dimas added metallic pigment to the paint--and the two are like oil and water, resisting each other and the resin to create these striking forms.

Dimas partly controls these processes and the look of his paintings by varying the amounts of resin and pigment, by tilting the paintings while the paint is spreading, and by dragging brushes over the surface; he rejects some paintings that don't turn out as hoped. But he's not making choices on the fleck and bubble level. This surrender of control helps give his pictures their organic look; if the world is being reinvented here, it's being done in part according to the same laws that shape nature's creations. As a result, Dimas's images combine the fractal textures of nature and the bold compositions of traditional abstraction.

Born in Chicago in 1977, Dimas grew up in the suburbs, attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and now lives in Naperville. When he was young, he began copying the anatomical illustrations in medical textbooks his dad, a respiratory therapist, had around the house. Other influences include an early encounter with Jasper Johns's flag paintings ("canvases stacked on canvases," as Dimas says); fantasy art and horror films; and in college, Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter. One of the paintings in this show was made during Dimas's last year at Champaign, but all grew out of the abstract work he was doing there--including experiments with various "homemade concoctions," such as mixtures of varnishes and oils.

Uncertain orientations are a key part of Dimas's work: we're never quite sure about the nature of the space depicted. The contrast between tan and brown in one picture is subtler than that between red and dark green in the other, but there's still an odd drama. The lower, brown area resembles a cliff, and the tan area, resolved into curving lines, suggests a waterfall. But what are those patches of brown doing in the tan "sky," or patches of tan doing in the brown "cliff"? More to the point, the thickly textured cliff also looks like a landscape seen from directly above.

Following Clement Greenberg's suggestion that painting should reflect its flat support, a number of less subtle minds argued that all illusionism was wrong. Today, of course, painters feel free to make illusionistic and even trompe l'oeil pictures. Dimas's work occupies an important position in this discourse. The final coat of clear resin he applies gives his pictures a reflective sheen like that found in kitschy paintings, whose shiny veneers doubtless go well with colored glass and plush sofas. But Dimas's paintings are not mere objects: with their mysteries and subtle contrasts, their eruptions and transformations, they offer a complicated experience over time.

Dimas's reflective surfaces, illusions of depth, and spatial dislocations mean that his images are not flat in Greenberg's sense. Yet they're not stable in the way illusionistic images are either. Instead they seem to hang in space, somehow lifted off the picture plane. Ultimately they do refer to their own making in typical modernist fashion: the dramas one sees can be interpreted as merely the interactions of Dimas's materials. But his paintings are also more than that. In one red image with an almost even texture, tiny lines vanish when they meet small, fuzzier areas and emerge on the other side--and these little abstract events seem stories of annihilation and rebirth. The viewer's imagination is set free to roam across nature as well as the interaction of materials on Lucite.

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