California-based artist Ayyad Alnimer's energetic paintings communicate a productive anxiety, a palpable restlessness, and a profusion of influences. In his artist statement, Alnimer describes himself as "unlimited by a single perspective," which seems to free him up to explore and draw upon traditions like cubism and abstract expressionism and color-field painting—sometimes all at once—filtering them through his own painterly language.
At his solo show "Order in Chaos" at XOL Gallery through Nov. 1, this recombination of multiple influences is exemplified most clearly in a pair of large, square paintings (with kinda corny titles 'Colors Shining Through' and 'Tearing through the Colors') hung on the wall like diamonds, touching at a corner, which combine flat planes of color and hard-edge abstraction, cutting in with slashes of black and white expressionistic marks. Both surfaces have a "frame" and a horizon line, from corner to corner, and I want to think that the hard edges—the alternating shades of orange, blue, purple, and red—were the first steps, assuming that the artist would begin with a structure and then deviate. But when I think about the gestures logically, it would seem that the first step would have to be the more flowing and expressive black paint on white surface, that Alnimer came in afterward with tape and measuring tools to impose the colorful structure over top. These paintings hint at the rifts that typically led one movement to grow out of others, like how abstract-expressionism led to hard-edge painting—though today movements seem a little less important, or harder to define.
The works in this show range over some 20 years—most from the past five years, and a few from the mid-'90s and 2000. Alnimer's three most recent paintings in the show are the most frantic, compositionally, with a jarring arrangement of rectangular, trapezoidal, and arching or scalloped shapes that are often painted with a wobbly, seemingly uncertain handling of paint. There are few easy, logical links between the shapes in 'Doors to Travel' to move your eye around or keep it anchored anywhere, save for a few patches of sand-colored shapes, or the way a series of yellow, blue, white, green, and pink shapes telescope out of each other, and come down from the right side of the painting, like a bent knee. Repeated blue and violet shapes create a necessary harmony and visual weight around the painting's bottom edge. But coming right down the middle of the painting, from the top, there's a tangle of Howard Hodgkin-like color (the way the paint is sort of slapped on and allowed to sit there) that stops in the center at a small white shape. It's hard to describe the painting as anything other than an exciting, if overwhelming, mess.
There are a few paintings that are still more calm and reserved, rather than unhinged. 'The Heart's Horizon,' a mostly rectangular red shape with long, skinny rectangles on the left, right, and top sides, is a quiet nod to Rothko, with whispery strokes of paint that congeal into the glowing red of the painting's main area and a skinny quinacridone magenta rectangle near the bottom of the canvas. At the top, a narrow semicircle of brushy black paint rises up against a bright yellow background. And then 'Heartbeat,' a six-sided shaped canvas (made of three narrow rectangles or a near-square and two narrow rectangles, depending on how you look at it) has hints of a large, smooshed bluish shape in the middle of the canvas, but a screen of bubblegum-pink acrylic paint has been spread and scraped across it. 'Dream Maker,' right next to it, matches the pink in terms of intensity but not chroma; it's mostly a busy swirl of black paint, with scraped and splattered marks, also on a shaped canvas. There's so much going on here in terms of shape, mark, and gesture, but still, the logic seems clear and uniform.
There are a number of portraits in the show as well, most from 2011 and 2012, in which linear faces are cut up by planes of color that recall Diebenkorn; in others, colorful backgrounds for the figures are muted by a layer of cool, pasty white acrylic. Several paintings combine Alnimer's signature portrait and abstraction techniques successfully, showing a more subdued or calculated approach—particularly 'Portrait of a Woman in Blue,' from 2011, in which a few thin lines describe a woman's face, while whited-out hues of green, pink, yellow enliven the background. The lines are careful and strong, like Matisse's (formerly controversial) reductive drawings of the figure.
"Modern art always projects itself into a twilight zone where no values are fixed. It is always born in anxiety, at least since Cezanne," the late Leo Steinberg writes in his essay "Contemporary Art and the Plight of Its Public." "And Picasso once said that what matters most to us in Cezanne, more than his pictures, is his anxiety. It seems to me a function of modern art to transmit this anxiety to the spectator, so that his encounter with the work is—at least while the work is new—a genuine existential predicament."
Steinberg wrote that essay in 1962, so, obviously before the internet made everything accessible as fast as we can type something and hit "enter." But the anxiety he describes is still relevant; it is less important (and it's impossible) that art is "original" but more important that it is aware of its history and its context. Alnimer's varied approaches, with his nods to Rothko and Kline and de Kooning and Picasso, aren't surprising or new, but they acknowledge the way we consume art history now, that we can draw what we like out of it and use it to make something new. But the paintings together, in all their plurality, lay bare the way Alnimer filters his perceptions through artists, movements, and places, reorganizing all of this through his own gestural inclinations.
"Order in Chaos" is on display at XOL Gallery through Nov. 1. For more information, visit xolgallery.com.