In Local Living Color: Vince Pomilio’s Thornbush Grid
By Dave King
Vincent Pomilio no doubt cleans up nicely, but in his New York City studio he’s the archetype of the painter at ease, answering the door in splattered painter’s pants and a white t-shirt that clearly doubles as a paint rag. On the day I visited, Pomilio was choosing paintings for a group exhibition called Melange now on view at Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, and a long wall that ran from his front door into a sunny cluttered studio was hung salon-style with paintings from the last several years. As he paced up and down rearranging his work, Pomilio cast an air of old-school bohemianism, both Paris and Greenwich Village varieties, but his paintings—as well as Bruno, the spotless muse, sorry, border terrier, who joined him in greeting me—seemed entirely contemporary.
Pomilio, who also resides in Columbia County and paints in a backyard shed there, is solidly built, with dark hair and a darkish beard. As a young man he taught art in his native Philadelphia, then did graduate work in painting at Tyler and NYU, supporting his creative life by work as a sous-chef and a decorative painter and building sets for The Actors Studio. Pomilio’s earliest work was figurative, but the sole representational piece I saw at his studio was a pleasant self-portrait from his student days, which hung in the bathroom beneath a print of a Renaissance lady. He’s known now for a kind of patterned abstraction, so I asked how that shift had occurred, and he spoke of an epiphany at The MacDowell Colony twenty years ago. He’d been asked to participate in a group show using skeletal imagery, and the painting that resulted became key to his practice. It was “a Rosetta Stone type of painting,” Pomilio said, and the works that followed were “almost like weavings. Or pared down from that, with less nonobjective imagery happening.”
Pomilio’s current paintings are composed of irregular polygons of color, sometimes crisp at their edges, sometimes blurring together, the tone of one shape washing like a tide across the contours of the next. Often the borders stand up in tiny ridges, actual micro-wedges of impasto, and these common edges are where much of the tension lies. There, where the shapes abut, daubs of bright color will gather the way leaves gather in the corner of a porch or the way aerial photographs can seem to bunch up around random elements: a lone tree in a schoolyard or a shopping plaza tucked among patchwork farms. Indeed, it’s this question of viewpoint that interests me most about the work. Are his images inspired by the microscopic, by a magnified speck of rust or the wing of a moth? Or have we pulled far far back to view the earth from above?
Pomilio showed me a small neat panel he was considering for the Haddad show. Unlike many of his current paintings, this one was mostly black, but Pomilio has a knack for making black seem neutral, like asphalt or chalkboard, rather than dark in the emotional sense. Across a softly mottled field, green shapes peeked from behind slate-colored verticals, and again the artist’s standpoint was ambiguous. It felt equally reasonable to read the greens as platelets or beech leaves or fairways on a golf course—or indeed simply as brushstrokes.
“This is part of a series called Big-Little, in which I try to create a larger image on a smaller scale,” Pomilio said, adding that the series now runs to 75 works, all twelve by twelve inches. And though some of the paintings had grown “dense and complicated,” the project was an opportunity to get minimal. “Minimal for me, anyway.” Indeed, this new work seems less congested than the larger works Pomilio exhibited at Haddad in 2011 and at the Hudson Opera House in 2008. The current shapes are bigger and more angular, and perhaps as a result, the colors pop.
Pomilio placed two more paintings on either side of the first, and we stood back to look. They made a handsome group, the shapes spiky, the colors precise and elegantly electric. In one, orange and cerulean predominated, with drifts of a plum tone I thought of as shadowing and soft red veins across the broadest of the orange.
I asked how he made initial decisions, for example in choosing colors. Where did the spiky shapes come from, I wondered also, and as I struggled to describe how the cerulean met the orange I tried the word fencing, which Pomilio jumped on: “I’m intrigued by barbed wire shapes, fence shapes, trellis shapes…” Much starts with the grid, he remarked a bit ruefully: “It’s hard to get away from the grid in a square format. Especially for someone of my generation: the Almighty Grid!” He reached down meditatively to scratch Bruno’s ear, then said the grid was a tool for organizing ideas drawn from the broader world, but that the real work was done in breaking the grid down. He jumped up to rearrange the paintings again, then we stood back to look, and as we took in the new pattern Pomilio finished his thought. “Vines that grow organically and at the same time create systems that are repeated,” he murmured. “The thorns of rose bushes after the roses are gone. Nature is so perfect with this!”
Vincent Pomilio’s work is on view from December 12, 2013—January 19, 2014.
Carrie Haddad Gallery
622 Warren St., Hudson, NY
Dave King is the author of a novel, The Ha-Ha, which won the 2006 Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters among other honors and awards.