Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / Rob de Oude’s exquisitely painted geometric abstractions, on display at McKenzie Fine Art on the Lower East Side, at once resist and invite scrutiny. Though wholly handmade, they are all composed of small squares that appear so perfect, calmingly symmetrical, and plain beautiful as to discourage a closer look: there’s nothing more to see here, and what you see is fine enough. But his patterns – both over the expanse of the canvas and within each rectangle – are so intricate and their variations so subtle that a hard look turns out to be compulsory and in fact rewarding.
The paintings’ constituent squares have meticulously uniform interior geometries but also differing values, recapitulating the more broadly variegated visual macrocosm of the grid and suggesting subterranean activity, mutability, and potential if for now contained chaos. In this vein, some of de Oude’s titles are suggestive: Canary (as in the coal mine), Echo, Frequency Phantom, Future Shock. Others, like Spring Forward and Tailspin, are more straightforwardly kinetic and the paintings themselves correspondingly more visually jarring and discreetly representational.
Especially tantalizing and poignant are pieces such as In the Balance, Now You Do Now You Don’t, Scrim, Unison, Upend Downplay, and Upside, which, owing to dramatically differentiated color values, seem to throb with something more beneath the surface, as if irradiated or sinisterly inhabited. They impart the notion that order is inherently unstable and susceptible to disruption, even in the hands of a master systematizer like de Oude. From this standpoint, the show’s title – “Unison,” same as one of the paintings – bears more than a trace of irony and might even convey dread.
Pristine though they are, there is plenty more to these paintings than initially meets the eye. While a few pieces – Duo, Frequency Flow, Double Feature, Match Up – do connote a tentatively steady state, it is always at least gently in flux. Nothing in de Oude’s work is really still. The stringent order his paintings embody is also manifestly delicate. They are not merely nice to look at; they are also cogent, even urgent, and very much of the moment.
“Rob de Oude: Unison,” McKenzie Fine Art, 55 Orchard Street, New York, NY. Through February 12, 2023.