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Lucas Samaras, Mosaic Painting # 27, March 3, 1992, acrylic on canvas board, 50" x 33-1/2" (127 cm x 85.1 cm) © Lucas Samaras

Curator's Choice

Lucas Samaras

Mosaic Painting #27

By Oliver Shultz

Lucas Samaras’s Mosaic Painting #27 (1992) is a prismatic explosion of riotous color. Interlocking bands , painted in boldly contrasting colors, form a fractured, asymmetrical grid. As if in a state of movement , rectangular cells descend into ever smaller units toward the work’s center, creating the dizzying illusion of receding space. Following a spiral path, your eye is drawn into a chaotic and wobbly patchwork of mismatched geometric forms. Seen from up close, the borders between each band of color appear incised, giving the paint a subtle sculptural quality. Five misshapen cut-outs bordered by thick black bands puncture the physical surface of the picture plane, disrupting the rectilinear grid. Here, Samaras has revealed sections of the white wall behind the work in an optical and spatial riddle for the viewer.

Created during the 1990s, Samaras’s Mosaic Paintings express an exuberant sense of horror vacui—a refusal or fear of empty spaces. The meticulously applied hard-edge forms become an overwhelmingly dense accumulation of visual information, often on shaped supports. This series marks an important chapter in Samaras’s long history of working in high-key, psychedelically colored geometric abstractions, which occur as early as his box sculptures and color wheel paintings of the 1960s. Distinct from the gridded abstractions of the Minimalists working at the same time, Samaras’s grids are unapologetically wonky and maximal. These mosaic-like compositions, with their vibrating tessellation, anticipate the breakthrough works that Samaras made using a computer beginning the early 2000s, and articulate a visual strategy that continues to inform his practice of abstracting form and distorting space through digital manipulation.

Essays — Curator's Choice: Lucas Samaras, Apr 5, 2020