David Solomon: An Art that “Has Its Reasons”
When he was a youngster, David Solomon has said, his father often engaged the demonstrably artistic boy in earnest “doodling” sessions. It is not at all a stretch to see that, after the passage of decades, and varied forms of schooling, Solomon’s tutelage in gifted “doodling” still has its ramifications.
In works like Versions of the What, No. 1 (2011), it is obvious that Solomon relies, to a large extent, not only upon an inclination to metaphor but also upon willing surrender to such fertile doodling, i.e. to biomorphic automatism, to generate his characteristic mise en scene. His paintings and drawings spring from what a noted critic has once called “disinhibited fancy,” a heightened form of doodling, to be sure.
Adding even more to this potent form of graphic liberation of the artist’s fantasy, too, is his fascination with the potentials in new materials. Most notably, the artist’s current preoccupation with the quite “techno” surface of aluminum results in a myriad of special effects, not simply in its reflectivity, but also in the way it allows for experimentation in painterly texture gives contrasts and riffs upon geometric versus gestural/random figuration.
Several critical observers have recognized in Solomon’s work specific antecedents from the earliest days of abstraction, parallels particularly obvious in the works of Kandinsky, Klee and Miro. Additionally, one may also see the likes of Bill Jenson, William Baziotes, Arthur Dove and certain effects of the desert landscape as handled by “transcendentalist” artists Raymond Johnson and Agnes Pelton.
Solomon has said “I translate things into a metaphysical–or at least mystical–reasoning and abstract language…“it’s about what’s behind what we see”; such was certainly the modus operandi of all, or most, of those pioneer abstractionists, i.e. they were all deeply receptive to the philosophical and psychological “chatter” in the air of their day.
Among the concepts to which they (and now, Solomon) were keenly attuned, consciously or no, were things like Rudolf Steiner’s “Theosophical drawings” of “thought forms,” as he called them. Solomon’s characteristic markings – quivering orbs, projectiles, and such – are easily apprehended as wafting, evanescent “thought forms”.
It might be possible to formulate a rather off-hand “key” or “glossary” of the recurrent glyphs in Solomon’s fairly hermetic works. Ultimately, his compositions tend to “read” (if they “read” at all) rather like an old-fashioned rebus; one shape relates to the next shape relates to the next leading, perhaps, to some grasp-able “caption”. In this formulation there’s also something reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphics which were, ultimately, “sacred notations” intelligible only to initiates!
Solomon has noted that “most of the shapes in my work come from natural sources, like…the face, or sexuality, and landscapes and natural objects like seeds, fruit, flowers, bugs, schools of fish, water currents, etc.” He continues in this vein: “Everything is happening all the time at all times…quantum physics and all that jazz…I happen to be someone where the edges blur”.
Just a few stock shapes which recur include (for example, in the painting “Midnight Dreaming or Anti Dream” 2011) the levitating “blimp” at center, the penetrating pyramid at lower left, and the cartoon-like “head”. For this viewer, the omnipresent “eye” form could even be a resuscitation of one of the most pregnant Egyptian hieroglyphs, the so-called “eye of Horus”. Solomon noted that “the blimp shape comes from observing fruits and seeds…it represents the transfer of information, or potential being held, or the closed ‘eye’ of a higher being, or direct information from a ‘god’ source”.
This painter’s imagery might evoke for some, as it does for the writer, parallels with musical “thought forms,” a kindred, evocative artistic vocabulary. Critic John Photos has noted, that Solomon’s impulse to improvisation feels rather like intense jam sessions; “as is the nature of improvisation,” Photos remarks, “nimble, clumsy, restrained or emotive, whatever happens happens [italics ours], and the results are permanently fused that way forever”.
Contemplating a work like “Midnight Dreaming or Anti Dream,” one could in fact wish it were possible to “turn up the volume”; the jostling forms and rhythms here might reveal a wistful, tinkling “sound track” reminiscent of, say, Debussy or, even better, of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies” – phrases notably haunting, drifting, and dreaming. Solomon’s works have elsewhere been found to be “driven by the music of the spheres”.
Solomon’s gift for pictorial invention, born of gifted, “disinhibited” reverie – like the upward-floating “rocket” shape in “We Have Contact” ink and gouache drawing – often feels strikingly kindred to the prehistoric pictographs and petroglyphs which are scattered widely throughout the landscape of the American Southwest. Their antic imagery is most surely a part of many a Santa Fe artist’s mental furniture. Consciously or not, Solomon’s paintings echo their sprightly and numinous qualities.
Finally, it remains to be noted, there’s always a highly declarative flat-patterning and implied animation in Solomon’s works, especially in his pungent black on white, ink and gouache works on paper, as in the aforementioned “We Have Contact.” This quality smacks of close study of both comic strips and Japanese anime.
Beyond his wellspring in pure abstraction, Solomon’s juste milieu seems rooted in Surrealist art’s more lyrical aspects; in works like Mother and Child (2011), for example, the embryonic central figure, haloed in an effulgent nimbus of golden orange, could easily pass for one of the inimitable grotesqueries of masters like Miro, Masson and Arp. Addi
The lustrous painting, Knowledge of Good and Evil, 2011, amply encapsulates Solomon’s liveliest impulses. As with all his newest panels, it is thinly painted on shimmering aluminum panel, its forms appearing to drift in some amniotic space that evokes the ethereal, gold-grounded “mind/space” of Byzantine icons. Here, a quivering yellow shape, like a cell nucleus, seems about to be pierced by a sharp projectile. As in all the newest Solomon works, the forms evoke recollections of microscopic life, like zygotes, amoebae or paramecia, strange things seen in a droplet of water.
Some viewers may recall the hobgoblin imagery in Odilon Redon’s prints and drawings when, famously, he was struck by startling things people were discovering through the lens of the first microscopes. Still other observers apprehend things “cosmic,” like nebulae and star systems.
Solomon captures, beautifully, the singular nature of his enterprise when he says that he “happens to be someone where the edges blur,” that is, he translates things into “mystical reasoning” where, as the old French adage has it, “the heart has its reasons which reason knows not of”.
By Jan Ernst Adlmann, Santa Fe, January 2013
Jan Adlmann is an emeritus member of the Association of Art Museum Directors, an art historian, curator and arts writer. He is the author of several monographs, in addition to Contemporary Art in New Mexico (1996). Artist statement provided the writer, December 2012.  Photos, John The Santa Fe Reporter, April 14-20, 2010  Davis, Kathryn M. THE magazine, Santa Fe, May, 2010