On Viewsigns and symbols
January 6–February 11, 2023
The fluidity of images—how they can hold many meanings at once while leaving room for new interpretations to emerge—is of chief concern to Belgian artist Benoît Platéus. Eleven of the artist’s recent canvases, all painted in 2022, make up the exhibition Benoît Platéus: Other Percolators at signs and symbols gallery, each of them a Rorschach test for the willing viewer. The artist starts with photographs taken during his daily travels, as well as those found online, which he then transposes into paintings flooded with color and lined with subtle hints of form, creating abstract compositions that invite long looks, thoughtful considerations of what one sees and why. While the pictures retain distinct traces of the images from which Platéus works, his titles nudge viewers to riff on the visual and textual clues he presents, freely allowing their own associations to bubble up. It is his hope that new possibilities of interpretation will arise with each encounter as viewers interact with the works, revealing the ways in which seeing is a deeply personal—and perhaps a bit magical—act.
A large-scale painting, Hieroglyph Machine features patches of yellow that glow against layers of burnt orange and dusky rose, creating something akin to old color-film negatives. As I stand in front of it, an early memory of suddenly entering a dark room on a very bright day floats into my consciousness. I begin to see the outline of a sewing machine (a gallery assistant later confirms that I am correct, the artist loves sewing machines). For a moment, I think of my mother’s black enamel Singer, a gorgeous item decorated with floral motifs that I sadly jettisoned one year in an overzealous purge of my storage space. Stepping closer to the painting, I notice triangles and intersections of lines that suggest ancient glyphs waiting to be read much in the way I am “reading” the overall painting, scanning for the familiar, linking it to the past.
Italian Geometry is less enigmatic, but it reveals a sense of the quotidian that is both witty and tender. The mostly white painting features a large triangle, the top side of which curves slightly as if extracted from a circle. A thick green band of color that runs along the right side of the canvas almost connects with the triangle at its corner to form a new triangle. Like many of Platéus’s pieces, the painting’s title serves as a riddle through which the image can be deciphered. In this case, Italian Geometry refers to a slice of pizza the artist saw lying on a sidewalk, now starkly abstracted in a painting which brings awareness to something most of us would have stepped past. Reconsidering the image with this in mind, suddenly the triangle, mottled with dots and blemishes, and anchored by a thick band along its curved edge could only be a slice of pizza. There is something sad about an entirely intact slice of pizza falling to the ground. Was this the only slice whoever dropped it could afford? Did they get something to eat anyway? Among the mottled marks within the pizza triangle, I spot a tiny but very distinct blue heart.
Decoding the paintings is wonderfully satisfying. The wit with which the artist hints at hidden shapes and suggests associations foregrounds the act of looking, encouraging viewers to savor the feeling of engagement and discovery. At first glance, Galactic Stick looks to be a green weapon of the future, or maybe a toy saber, surrounded by a fiery orange atmosphere. Blink and it suddenly takes on the appearance of an island seen from space, floating in a blazing sea. The image, I am later told, represents a sticker seen in the window of a delicatessen, an ad for a packaged frozen treat. In Electric Flowers, a smaller work, the purple and yellow outlines of two flowers hover over an uneven wash of pale green paint, thinly applied or perhaps scraped away from the canvas. Filling the frame with their circular petals, the flowers are easily discerned, while a tiny lightbulb shape that repeats throughout the image is less apparent.
While Oysters and Tools, one of the largest paintings in the exhibition, presents no challenges in its title, I found its composition both incongruous and intriguing. Against a field of bright yellow, delicate lines suggest the curve of a platter on which lie a few screwdrivers, a wrench, and a glove. Alongside these objects, the bumpy rounded forms of what I assume are oysters nestle together. The tools are easily recognized, but the oysters are harder to perceive, and because of that, I find myself lingering, waiting for all of it to become clear. It doesn’t, but that is fine. The pleasure of looking is enough.