Solo Shows

Bordo to Earth

Robert Bordo, A Primer, 2023, oil on linen, 68 × 84 inches

Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / Robert Bordo’s gently enveloping solo exhibition “Paint World,” now on view at Bortolami, is comprehensively seductive and sly, staking a claim to the attention of both the dreamer and the realist. Ultimately, he favors the latter. His subject is this rock we all live on. In depicting it impressionistically, from lunar vantage with small, nuanced brushstrokes, he achieves a paradoxically clued-up serenity of pastoral detachment and soft focus – not unlike that of, say, Monet’s waterlilies or, more abstractly, Günther Förg’s patches and crosshatches. But in literally facing the world, as it were, he also directly confronts its profound challenges and emphatically declines to turn his back on them. Thematically, then, this series escalates the existential worry of his earlier “Windshield” and “Crack-up” paintings – presumably planted in part by Guston, with whom Bordo studied – to global scale.

Robert Bordo, Planet, 2023, oil on linen, 20 × 24 inches

The works’ titles are lightly allusive, lending the show firm but unobtrusive cohesion. Planet, the smallest of the paintings at 20 by 24 inches – the other six are much larger, ranging from 66 by 84 inches to 72 by 90 inches – represents the sphere with an apparently traditional configuration of continents, calmly articulated with predominantly horizontal strokes, perfectly centered against a stable white background, and larger relative to the canvas than any of the other renderings. That presentation is loosely reminiscent of the iconic Blue Marble – the first photograph of Earth as a whole, taken from Apollo 17 in 1972 against stark black – and it may serve as an objective frame of reference for Bordo’s more speculative ideas. A Primer, perhaps a small dose of candor about latent instability,has Earth slightly off-center, surrounded in white that seems to be curdling, brushstrokes aslant, as if the world had subtly wobbled off its poles. In Fabled, the planet is endowed with a protective blue aura against the now distressed white void, maybe as a nod to humans’ conceit of Earth as their special, impervious place. Look a little closer and the position of the continents is off. As maps, the paintings aren’t intended to make sense. For Bordo, longitude and latitude become conceptual parameters for brushwork and the illusion of three dimensions rather than facts.

Robert Bordo, Ripe Melon, 2023, oil on oil-primed poly-cotton, 72 × 90 inches
Robert Bordo, Siege, 2023, oil on linen, 68 × 84 inches
Robert Bordo, Fabled, 2023, oil on oil-primed poly-cotton, 66 × 84 inches

The three foundational works seem to launch a discernible narrative, taken up by the others. The title Ripe Melon connotes vulnerability as well as bounty. Indeed, in the painting, the aura from Fabled has all but succumbed to a blue-inflected white while the brushstrokes, especially those of the still deep blue ocean, resemble the relief of a cantaloupe waiting to be consumed. Siege evokes the ravages of climate change: the monochromatic background is no longer white but rather algae green, for the first time appearing dirty; the continents are casually drawn and crudely colored; the oceans are mottled and murky in appearance. A note of hope comes in Turnaround, which features a bright and substantially uniform green backdrop very close to the color of the oceans as well as continents that appear, on balance, verdant; the painting’s placid opacity, unique among the seven, imparts integration and reconciliation.In Fish Bowl Revisited, though, a dirty-white atmosphere with an ominously dark quadrant tentatively returns, oceans are conspicuously exposed and turbulent with brushstrokes, and the continents again look depleted. We can learn but beware of backsliding.

Robert Bordo, Fish Bowl Revisited, 2023, oil on oil-primed poly-cotton, 72 × 90 inches
Robert Bordo, Turnaround, 2023, oil on linen, 68 × 84 inches
Robert Bordo, “Paint World,” installation view at Bortolami

There are, of course, alternative sequences and inferences. But the show, cleverly hung such that the images of Earth are all situated at the same height and the edges of the canvases incidentally at different ones, urges viewers to forge informed links and contemplate prospective chronologies. What is unequivocal is Bordo’s recognition that while Earth superficially appears on its own in our daily lives, on our screen savers and elsewhere, it is not impermeable or indestructible. We are neither alone nor hermetically sealed. Thus, in terms of the zeitgeist, he discreetly moves from Blue Marble to Pale Blue Dot, which astronomer Carl Sagan persuaded NASA to shoot from the Voyager 1 space probe some 28 years later, in 1990, showing a barely perceptible Earth in cosmological perspective: small and on the move in an infinite expanse, and needing judicious navigation. Bordo’s timely gloss is a fully realized if quiet painterly drama, at once solemn and cheerful, and a holistic triumph.

Robert Bordo: Paint World,” Bortolami, 39 Walker Street, The Upstairs, New York, NY. Through August 25, 2023.

Related posts:
Ode to Robert Bordo
Günther Förg’s late work

One Comment

  1. Joshua Neustein

    well I like to read reviews. Sometimes a nice flow of words and rarely, but it happens, great insight… like Roland Barthes if Cy Twommbly

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *