Ruben Nusz and the case for formalism

Ruben Nusz and the case for formalism

In "Sticks/Stones," a new exhibition at Thomas Barry Fine Arts, artist Ruben Nusz deconstructs the practice of painting. The show features two antithetical and yet interconnected sides to an equation of sorts about what a painting is, and why someone would choose to make one.

On one side of the room are untitled paintings that feature geometric patterns, lines, and bright and muted colors patched together in a very retro color scheme. Untitled (green frame 'Z' bar with pink line) has oddly matched hues of bright pink, forest green, light blue, light pink, and brick red. And while the hard edge palette might be considered ugly to present day interior decorators, there's something alluring about the works, particularly in the composition of the different lines and segments. 
Ruben Nusz and the case for formalism

The paintings have bold patterns, and there's a sharp, rigid quality to the lines. Untitled (violet frame, colored 'T' bar with black triangle) contains a striped cross which intersects with a black rectangle that creates a frame within the frame. Other works in this section feature diamond shapes, rigorous horizontal repetitions, and patterns. Nusz says he used a "personal algorithm" (whatever that means) to create these works. As a whole, they embrace an unabashed celebration of formality. 

On the other side of the gallery are Nusz's Paint Stone pieces, which at first glance look as if they are works that came from the painting section that have been crumpled up and glued onto canvas. Similar in palette to the Untitled works, the Paint Stone series appear sculptural in nature rather than two dimensional.
Paint Stone (1), 2011
Paint Stone (1), 2011
Image Courtesy Thomas Barry Fine Arts

It turns out that this is (mostly) an optical illusion. The background is not canvas at all, but paper that's been printed to look like canvas. It's purposefully mounted in a way that leaves space underneath the paper, as if the artist didn't do a very good job mounting it. Nusz says he did this intentionally as a way of calling attention to the construction of the piece. 

On top of the canvas-looking paper Nusz makes an underpainting with acrylic, on top of which he uses oil paints. The acrylic underpainting is so that the oil doesn't seep into the paper. The result are paintings that have a wonderful tactile quality to them.

Like the Untitled painting series, the Paint Stone pieces utilize unlikely color combinations. In Paint Stone (1), for example, yellow, lime green, black, white, orange-red, light blue, and gray all swirl together in a blob-like creation. The colors never mix though -- each retains its integrity. 

The Paint Stone pieces don't look so much like stones as the do wads of multi-colored chewing gum. Regardless, the optical illusion meta-paintings allow for reflection on how they were constructed. Contrasted with the uber-stringent Untitled pieces, the Paint Stone paintings point to what makes a painting a painting. Nusz's case ultimately rests on whether the viewer believes that the effort was worth it. 

To see the work, you'll need to make an appointment with Thomas Barry Fine Art by calling 612.338.3656 or emailing [email protected] The gallery is located at 900 Sixth Ave. SE in Minneapolis. 

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