For Jonathan Lasker, repetition isn't something to fear. In fact, over the course of the New York-based artist's 30-year career, Lasker's pictorial formula has remained so rigidly intact that critic Barry Schwabsky has described it as a "system," rather than a "style." And the five works on display at the Portland Art Museum hardly dispute that claim, employing his laconic visual vocabulary of blocks of squiggled lines and a single figure of heaped impasto. But in Lasker's insistent recycling of forms, which reference a whole host of painterly traditions, he disrupts our understanding of how abstraction operates.
On Lasker's canvases, there's a palpable tension between order and spontaneity. Every work is deliberately planned out. Even the ornate nests of loops and intersecting lines, themselves generated through automatic drawing exercises, are carefully replicated on the canvas. This approach effectively reconciles the influence of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, carving out a kind of tourist's route through the history of modern painting. Of course, Lasker's work is not without more lowbrow acknowledgements: The tidy execution of his lines conjures comic strips, while the juxtaposition of rectangles hits an urban note, calling to mind graffiti removal efforts. And yet Lasker's self-imposed limitations prevent these influences from truly pointing beyond themselves. Instead, they compel a viewer to dig more deeply into the paintings' own hermetic logic.
Given that each painting is essentially populated by the same constituent elements, it charges the subtle shifts in execution with a vague sense of drama. As these few recognizable forms are rearranged, share new spatial relationships, and resurface in new color schemes, they cease to exclusively signify abstraction. Instead, they take on an oddly narrative quality, as if the subtle reorganization of these elements is not solely for an aesthetic end. Certainly, Lasker's high-minded titles—"Scenic Remembrance" or "Reason and Free Will"—imply the stakes are much, much higher than a flair for composition. Perhaps, though, his work is designed to simply engage the viewer in this way, to elicit some critical dialogue in which the viewer is as much a participant as the artist. Given that Lasker always includes a blank, mirror-like pane of impasto at the center of his work, he seems to invite viewers to see themselves in his work.