Art review: Anton Weiss at L Ross Gallery

Technique bears rigors of abstraction

Anton Weiss, “Interval #5,” acrylic on canvas, at L Ross Gallery.

Anton Weiss, “Interval #5,” acrylic on canvas, at L Ross Gallery.

Critics are allowed to change their minds.

Writing about the abstract artist Anton Weiss’ penchant for including various scraps of metal in his typically huge paintings, in a review in November 2007, I said, “Here I disagree with Weiss’ intent, even though he must, as a thoughtful artist committed to a vision and technique, be totally sincere. I find these metal bits not only distracting but trivializing, and they bring to this work, which is otherwise of the highest order, a bothersome touch of the commercial.”

In April 2011, however, I felt more affinity with the technique and wrote that “by incorporating scraps of metal in a wide array of shards, splinters, particles and shreds,” Weiss gave “each piece a rigorous and elegant air of urban and postindustrial decay.”

From “commercial” to “elegant.” Well, critics, like Walt Whitman, may encompass contradictions.

It was interesting to note that Weiss’ new exhibition, through April 30 at L Ross Gallery, is titled “Return to Canvas,” signaling a re-emphasis on paint as opposed to the embellishments of metal scraps, and it was equally interesting to see those expanses of canvas freed from the strictures of “shards, splinters, particles and shreds” of metal. Here is the artist doing what he does best in an exhilarating combination of spontaneity and cunning.

Weiss, who lives in Nashville, is one of those painters who puts to shame the legions of abstractionists who seem to think that abstraction is a style rather than a commitment and an invitation to vagueness instead of a command to exacting technique. To stand at a distance from one of the works in this exhibition — “Ruin,” for example, or the splendid “Interval #5” — and then move forward to stand as close as possible is to receive myriad lessons in how abstract painting can be done.

The overall picture is important, of course, as is the relationship among its parts, but seen close up, Weiss’ paintings reveal worlds upon worlds of intricate details of layering, scraping, repainting, scraping again, adding and subtracting.

And yet — always that “and yet” — Weiss cannot seem to resist incorporating a trope into his work, showing up in this exhibition on five of 11 paintings. The device now is a disk or, as the titles of two of these pieces indicate, an orb. Inevitably, the viewer will interpret the small orb as a representation, however abstract, of the sun or the moon, of a world, of a center of completeness, thereby giving the piece unnecessary concreteness. As I said of Weiss’ metal scraps in the first review cited above, these orbs, rather than being focusing or unifying, are distracting and trivializing; they smack of an enforced idea rather than an intuitive and organic development.

The most compelling pieces in the exhibition are the mid-size “Atonement” (36-by-42 inches) and the quite large “Ruin” (60-by-72) and “Interval #5 (48-by-72). The latter, in particular, with its subtle and supple interaction between color and form, and its air of unforced architectural particularity, would be something to look at and rediscover for many years.

Anton Weiss, ‘Return to Canvas’

L Ross Gallery, 5040 Sanderlin, through April 30. Call (901) 767-2200.

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