Peter Barrickman ‘Untitled Melodies’ at Green Gallery

Peter Barrickman is what many would call a painter’s painter, a label that means little on its face, but also suggests an abiding interest in the medium’s deeper possibilities. Even in its sloppiness the term implies a certain commitment to the potential of the medium beyond superficial results, and a reciprocity with other practitioners. His current exhibition “Untitled Melodies” at Green Gallery through March 1 is a gift to those painters and confirms that one artist’s faith in his internal pursuit might lead, with persistence, to another’s visual salvation.

The 12 paintings in the exhibition operate between representation and abstraction. This in itself isn’t notable as most painters working today migrate between these realms to some degree; however, Barrickman’s particular approach arrives at a seductive ambiguity that pushes each mode aside on its way to a space of its own. It’s a space beholden to neither and satisfying both. The works in the exhibition evolve from three basic natural conceits: winter landscapes, fulfillment centers, and fires.

It’s a rhetorical grab bag that would please both Charles Bukowski and Tristan Tzara, but his paintings don’t dwell on narrative long enough for the viewer to daydream. For instance, the painting Thaw smacks us with a cold and icy greeting only before quickly sinking into its own painterly story of unpredictable color choices and mark making flourishes. Sharp passages of dark and light rise and settle with the disturbed orderliness of a deck of playing cards dropped to the ground. Dashing angular marks of muted reds mix with irregular networks of blue cells over brown circles while the most perfectly strange blue-gray anchor mediates between the competing dimensions at the lower right.

Color is the most obvious tell when following the work from ice to corrugated boxes to fire. The burnt sienna and khaki palette of Shipping Center feels as cardboard-ey as Thaw feels icy. But again, the conceit dissolves rapidly as packages turn to boxes and boxes turn to shapes. The paintings accumulate mark-by-mark into a painted adventure of caramel-colored tiles that forgot their warehousey origin story as soon as they were mixed. But just as soon as the transformation from function to form completes, and the whole three-dimensional scene gives way to flatness, two boxes at the bottom of the composition appear to be supporting the brushstrokes as if they were a stack of boxes, and the whole thing returns back to our humdrum reality of Sprinter vans and packages again.

The fire paintings are the most naturally obscured of the lot, given the inherently abstract nature of the subject matter. Barrickman chooses to emphasize the sharpness and kinetic energy of his content even as he moves it into the elements of art. The marks of the painting are centered on the canvas, licking and flickering outward without ever quite touching the edges. This choice provides them with a different character than the Fulfillment and Ice paintings that is slightly counterintuitive given fire’s tendency to spread and consume space.

Subtle decisions like this pop up throughout the exhibition. “Untitled Melody,” like all Barrickman’s exhibitions is to be taken in slowly, letting each painting unfold as carefully as he made them. It’s worth taking the time to travel through his paintings’ eggshell surfaces and into their unpredictable marks, perfectly imperfect colors, and hiccupy compositions if only to finally realize, as if a prize for the endurance, that he’s produced all this magic across a spectrum of real things from fire to ice with the unnatural pale brown nothingness of the fulfillment center in the middle. All of it like some mystical diagram of a world caught between powerful eternal forces and frivolous local banalities. Pays to stay for the encore.

By Shane Mcadam