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Warren Isensee | Art & Object

Warren Isensee, Pillow Talk, 2018, Oil on canvas, 40 x 52 inches, 101.6 x 132.1 cm

Miles McEnery Gallery
July 16 – August 28, 2020

Widely recognized for his dynamic geometric abstractions painted and drawn by hand, without the aid of tape or other devices to achieve a precise, hard-edged effect, Warren Isensee presents a surprising shift in his overall body of work with a new series of paintings and drawings exploring blobby, humorous, undulating forms. 

According to the accompanying catalogue text, in which critic Ken Johnson amusingly interviews himself about Isensee’s new work, this change in approach was somewhat influenced by the Devo song Wiggly World, that the artist was repeatedly playing as he worked in the studio. Created over a two-year period, the twenty-five paintings and drawings on view construct a cartoonish, visionary realm that pulsates with Op art energy.

Pillow Talk looks like a group of minimal, designer pillows or a bunch of border-edged shipping labels squeezed into a rectangle too small to hold all of the shapes, while Interstellar Overdrive resembles a set of gears grinding gooey, designer-colored confections from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. At other times the motifs suggest tribal masks, as in the painting Black Magic, and facial features from indigenous Northwest Coast totem poles, as seen in the repeated smiles in the loopy, colorful canvas LOL.

Whereas the petite, precise colored pencil drawings on view in a back gallery reveal the point-of-departure doodles for many of the artist’s lusciously rendered paintings (bringing to mind quilts, fabric designs, and psychedelic poster graphics), the illusionistic canvases convey a vivacious spiritual optimism that’s equally cheerful and comforting to behold.