Most artists leave the meaning of their work up to the viewer to interpret. Andrew Kuo gives you a map and a legend.
Kuo, a prolific tweeter, sports fan, and frequent New York Times contributor, unveiled a batch of new paintings at the Marlborough Chelsea last week. You Say Tomato showcases paintings that build on Kuo’s longstanding fascination with charts and maps–now on a much larger scale, with a level of technique that shows him evolving as a painter as well as a logician. “I always think of painting as making food,” he said a few hours before the opening. “You change one ingredient, and while it looks and tastes the same to everyone else, to you it’s really stressful.”
These paintings demand your attention. At the bottom of each canvas, a thin strip of text–a key of sorts–shows us what each color means, and how the composition is meant to be read. The op-art geometries of the paintings are a bit like flattened-out books, and the directions tells us the order in which each shape should be read. Take If I Wasn’t Sick 1-11-13. Each purple or yellow tile corresponds to a different thing Kuo would’ve done, had he not been sick that day (for example, “Stop wasting my time worrying about wasting my time”). Next to the key, a black-and-white diagram of the painting shows us the ideal path through the triangles. It’s like being a tourist in a city where you have to painstakingly translate every street sign–except in this case, the city is Kuo’s brain.
For the show’s invitation, Kuo blacked out most of the letters on Jeremy Lin’s Time magazine cover so that it reads phonetically as You Say Tomato. Lin is a recurring subject for Kuo (he painted him as Bart Simpson last year) and jibes with his ongoing obsession with sports statistics. While on the Times ArtsBeat blog, he visualizes things like the narrative arc of R. Kelly’s operatic “Trapped In The Closet” and his thoughts about Odd Future mixtapes. These aren’t exactly hobbies for Kuo–he treats them with the same analytical vigor as his paintings.
Some might call Kuo an Internet artist, given the fact that his work bumps up against web culture frequently, but that’s not quite the case. “I wish people wouldn’t talk about the Internet so much,” he says. “I wish they would talk about the stuff on the Internet more.” In fact, that aspect of his paintings seems to be implied by critics, in large part. For example, people frequently describe the text in his paintings as “tweet length,” but the legends recall 1960s map legends, too, and his geometric language is inspired as much by origami and table napkins as digital software. He makes one concession to the Web though. “I’ve never been able to keep a sketchbook, but Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr, they act as a sketchbook without the preciousness,” he adds. “It’s dumber, and it’s better, and it’s new. I’m not even interested in it, you know? I just do it.”
Check out You Say Tomato until May 4.