The week I went to see Traffication, James Boulton's exhibition of new paintings, a coworker's laptop fizzled in an overdose of analog gibberish; I made myself sick on handfuls of post-expiration date candy corn; the Israeli army and Hezbollah rebels took turns decimating Lebanese cities; and an anonymous bandit "tagged" our office with plushy stuffed Alfs and Stimpys. In other words, it was as if the universe had set a perfect stage for seeing Boulton's undulating canvases of organized third millennium chaos.
Boulton left Portland for Los Angeles just as his local stock was skyrocketing, following a great showing at the 2003 Oregon Biennial and a subsequent show at Pulliam Deffenbaugh. The show's title refers to LA's freeway culture; Los Angeles artists claiming to be influenced by traffic are like Renaissance painters citing church patronage as formative inspiration.
The show is quintessential Boulton: Q*Bert patterns, Cedar Bar brushwork, aerosol flourishes, and a disorienting play of spatial dynamics. "Vein and Brake" is grounded in a smeared-wrapping-paper nod to minimal stripe painting. Atop that sits a wide field of deep Alex Katz blues and a scraggly, shaky form, like a Pac-Man ghost with fangs and a scorpion tail, drawn with the left hand of a right-handed Parkinson's sufferer in a pale hue of watered-down Strawberry Quik.
Smaller paintings from his Fire Season series are even more harried; patterns and spirals and brushy negations in BMX color palettes converge on themselves like an overlay of candy-coated weather maps. Each canvas sports a generous amount of Abstract Expressionist bravado and spontaneity, but in each case, it's tempered by cooler, synthetic patterning.
In freeway terms, looking at Boulton's work is like shifting from fifth to second gear repeatedly within each painting, throwing viewers against the seatbelt restraint while the engine strains to normalize its RPMs. It's a wild ride and not for the squeamish, but Boulton's paintings are a perfect visual soundtrack for our exhilaratingly messy times.