Chuck Connelly is a Pittsburgh artist making his West Coast debut with a series of enigmatic canvases that fuse elements of landscape, objective representation and narrative through painterly impasto. Connelly paints aerial and frontal topographies, featuring rivers, streams, bridges and architectural forms that often resemble road maps or geographical renderings, as well as floating forms against dark, amorphous backgrounds that suggest mechanical appliances or R.M. Fischer-like table lamps. Each is rendered in an expressionistic style in rich earth colors and bright primaries, starkly outlined to stress an almost abstract geometrical structure.
Expressionism is a misnomer here, however, largely because its cliched characteristics are applied to passive, conceptual concerns devoid of emotional resonance. Instead, Connelly seems to be making a statement about paint itself. Landscape and object act as mere devices for the arrangement of painterly forms and color juxtapositions in space. Through homogeneous use of broad stroke and thick impasto, which unify diverse subjects into a common vocabulary, the language of Modernism is reduced to a mere exercise in arbitrary style, an aesthetic game of codes and signs that add up to little more than floating metaphors.
So why paint at all? Connelly seems to be suggesting that painting can be a viable medium once it is stripped of metaphorical and representational deceits. Painting, in effect, must "return to zero" and reconstitute itself as a pure, self-reflexive aesthetic. Connelly's oeuvre succeeds largely through the sheer bravura of his representation, but one wonders whether he has backed himself into a stylistic corner with the obvious realization that Neo-Expressionism is but a mere exercise in defunct historical mannerism. (Asher/Faure, 612 N. Almont Drive, to Feb. 1.)