Jacqueline Humphries: Painting the Analog/Digital Divide

Humphries POVarts

Jacqueline Humphries’ new large-scale paintings, recently on view at Greene Naftali’s new ground floor space, are an exploration of what we might call screen noise abstracted into paintings that I don’t want to stop looking at.

The press release explains the artist’s desire to recreate the “spatial and temporal logic of a world increasingly dominated by screens” and the paintings certainly communicate that. Their din, though, is not an unbearable over-saturation or constant movement that has the effect of numbing the eyes and mind. When I entered the gallery, I did not feel overwhelmed or put upon, the way I do when I sit down in a taxi and a screen starts making noise and movements in my direction. The paintings here provide a relatively quiet and pleasant greeting with a mix of graphic black and whites, blues, purples, greens, and pinks. A glow pervades the works and her signature silver underpainting reads otherworldly like the din of light of a computer screen in a darkened room.

JH Purple

:::, 2014, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches

As I looked more closely at the individual works, I got a strong sense of humming in the background or foreground of each work. In fact, there is no clear distinction between foreground and background in the works; rather they are generously and densely layered with swaths of paint and repeated patterns of ready-made marks, without a sequential need for which came first or which should be given visual primacy. The layers are distilled enough to identify the different images, colors and patterns, but none are really preferenced in the paintings. Some, like Ω, are more like static or white noise – layers melting into layers without any elements popping out, while 🙂 comes close to noise that cannot be distinguished – a highly abstract sea of marks.


Ω, 2015, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches

:), 2015, Oil on linen, 114x127 inches

: ), 2015, Oil on linen, 114×127 inches

Others, like Xx, are more discreetly layered and swaths of paint can be delineated from printed patterns of emoticons. Overall, there is a non-preciousness to the images. Humphries does not cling to any particular emoticon as prized or special. Each is just a mark contributing to the overall visual song. They are all readily available and seemingly everywhere.

The result for me was a beautiful dreamlike state of uncertainty and suspension from grounding either in real space or alternative, digital space. Disjointing my sense of location though not aesthetics (I very much enjoyed looking at these), Humphries gives us a line to walk between the binary digital/analog divide. She communicates the dislocation between real, flat and digital spaces, and our near constant surround by one or all simultaneously, and rewards the viewers aesthetically in a way I have yet to see digital work do.

While these paintings represent a departure from her provisional painting style, the departure does not strike me as conceptually radical. In earlier works, the unfinished nature of the painting was conveyed primarily through brushwork. These paintings too can be read as unfinished or, at least, to be continued. While the painting, printing, and stenciling are on the whole decisive and confident, the message may well be that these are not complete in the same way that what passes in front of us on a screen is never really complete. The paintings become captured moments in the midst of non-stop action that is life.


Xx, 2014, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches


508 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001

Written by Katherine Keltner, Contributing Writer to POVarts

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