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Steven Salzman     Bio   Statement                Messenger
This morning, awake at five o'clock, the room almost dark still, I lay awake quietly meditating about the essay I would get up to write, and at the same time, as though playing a duet, watching the gradual change of colors in my paintings beside the bed, as the light slowly increased. I had the strange sensation then of imagining what might happen to those colors should the light continue to increase in strength  beyond full daylight. And from thinking about the unknown color gamut to the forms themselves and then to their significance - what a world
of conjecture I explored!

Henry Miller, from
The Waters Reglitterized

The stripe, the linear marker of man, a stripped down stick figure, a tool for counting, taking inventory, a single stroke that defines, identifies and delineates space. Perhaps it is not so much the stripe itself, but the idea that the stripe gives form and articulation to that which is otherwise ethereal, evasive. Then there is the process through which the stripe is created, applied and the very matter the stripe is made of, the coloration of the stripe, the position of the stripe, its placement in a series. Does one stripe, one color, push another one out? Do they vie with each other for space and attention? Do they vibrate, creating a chromatic hum? How many stripes are there? Clearly the stripe can go on forever, it is a piece of infinity. Newman, Davis Bleckner - the stripe, occurring and re-occurring each time raising the question why, why these stripes, why now, why again? In a highly conscious, historically aware, hard edged gesture, Steven Salzman works in an under explored space. Liberated in part through the heavily deconstructionist, conceptual and appropriationist approaches to art of the 1980's, he functions neither as a late neo-geo nihilist nor a fancier of fourth-round formalism. Salzman operates within the tradition of Minimalist abstraction and simultaneously entirely apart from it. His is a doctrine of democracy, an accessible and inclusive synthesis inexorably blending technology and artistry, the formal and the found.

Exploring the progress of paint, Salzman's stripes are in service to his medium, a found object known as Interference paint. Interference pigments are infused with mica particles that causes light to be fragmented, reflected back as its opposite. Like an aureole laid out, iridescent and metaphysically magnificent, the properties of the paint echo the pearlescent possibilities of light and hue found in nature, breaking down color in such a way that leaves no demarcation of space.
This combines with the steadiness of Salzman's stripe, the fact that his are non-hierarchical compositions - there are always the same number of each stripe, never any more or less of any one stripe - to make the paintings boundless extending well beyond the frame of the canvas edge, not unlike a Luminist landscape for the 21st century.

Exploiting the physicality of the paint, its plasticity, along with the artificiality of imposed boundaries, the hard-edged stripe becomes the form through which Salzman can most clearly and sensually articulate the power of Interference paint to shift and transcend, to quite literally change color before one's eye. The austerity of the stripes should by no means be mistaken for seriousness. Salzman's chromatic constructs represent a subtle, sublime seduction - a kind of trick-or-treat, peak-a-boo, now you see it, now you don't, visual game.  He plays
the high tenets of formalism off the lowest of kitschy culture - the Cracker Jack prize lenticulars of Vary-view sheets of printed plastic, which you tilt to watch the bronco buck the cowboy or the boy kiss the girl.

Further distinguishing Salzman's paintings from the Utopian modernist tradition of previous stripe paintings is the glow of the television picture tube. The lines of color and light that arrange and re-arrange themselves hundreds of times a minute, creating not so much an image as a liquid abstraction. One cannot look at Salzman's current work or previous pieces and not be reminded of the imagery of the test-pattern, the color bars through which tint and hues are fine tuned. Salzman is a rigorous colorist, meticulously modulating his elusive Interference pigments, playing them off each other in a delicate and deliberate display of the spectral range.

A return to the primacy of painting, Salzman's canvases defy mechanical reproduction, they cannot be photographed and instead demand the most primal and primitive of witnesses, the naked eye. Ultimately, he is creating a kind of activist art, that in defiance of political trends, opts for visual pleasure. Taking the activist construct quite literally, Salzman's paintings require viewer participation in order to be truly seen. In contrast to the television viewer sitting passively in front of the set, visually bombarded, succumbing to the numbing overload, one does not stand passively before these canvases in a trance. Instead the viewer activates the work by moving back and forth in front of them, up to and away from the surface, transforming the images and controlling the visual experience. Unlike the
externalized experiences of television, film and classical theater in which the forms act upon the audience, here the audience must work in concert with the painting, and therefore the viewer is engaged, determining the way in which the work operates and participating in the creation of meaning.

A.M. Homes

A.M. Homes is a novelist who teaches at Columbia University and is a equent  contributor to Artforum Magazine
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