Karen Wilkin, “At the Galleries,” The Hudson Review, Winter 2007, p. 626-7.

 

Alexi Worth's recent narrative paintings, “Couples,” shown at DC Moore Gallery, by contrast, embodied a version of those values completely in sync with those of the hip young sculptor: a combination of High Art rendering, vernacular subject matter, and cartoon licks. I'm not sure that I really liked the pictures, but I can't forget them. Worth pushes ambiguity to the point of confusion. In virtually every picture, it took a minute or two to work out what one was looking at. Several were based on a possibly rude, albeit unidentifiable, conjunction between of body parts that resolved itself as the round, hairless pate of a man, nestled into the naked shoulder of a long-haired woman, seen from the back. Others depended on exaggerated scale, making familiar objects hard to identify by enlarging them, while in still other paintings, soft-edged shadows—usually the artist's own profile—all but obliterated what they fell on, making it challenging to decipher spatial relationships. In every instance, this momentary confusion depended upon audacious cropping, dramatic foreshortening, collapsed space, and weird viewpoints—the tools of the inventive cartoonist. It's no surprise. Worth admires comic book conventions and inventions and acknowledges the impact of early encounters with certain strips on his evolution as a painter. What's impressive is that he has not only resisted (for the most part) the easy cartoon distortions that signal ironic detachment in the work of many of his contemporaries, but also adapted the dramatic overlaps, scale shifts, and flattenings associated with often brutal action comics to quiet images of domesticity and the studio.

Worth is fond of seamless shading and attention to the particulars of texture and detail. Color, kept with a narrow grayed-down range, interests him mainly as tone and as a way of separating forms. Drawing largely carried his recent works—drawing that somehow managed to simplify forms into pure geometry without losing fidelity to appearances. When Worth's chief aim appeared to be misleading the viewer, the paintings suffered; once one figured out the conceit, there was little incentive to keep looking. But in his strongest works, such as Sunburn—the most achieved and complex of the bald-head-on-woman's-shoulder series, with its probably logical yet bewildering “prism” of reflectors and reflections—the visual complexities made you not only admire the conceptual and technical pyrotechnics, but also think about the nature of illusionism itself. It's clear that Worth is deeply engaged by some of Western paintings most fundamental concerns and wrestling with the important questions about the nature of perception. I'm eager to see what he does next.