TOTAL PLASTIC GRAVITY
Nick Relph works like a lonely cartographer, embarking on solo peregrinations around the city to chart a landscape that mutates faster than it can be perceived—a city that operates outside of human time. Armed with a shoddy handheld digital scanner, he documents scaffolds, construction sites, building facades and advertisements. It is a world in motion, vulnerable to human foibles—a wonky swipe of the arm here; the foreshortening resulting from a human-sized figure vainly reaching upward; missing patches of information. In the resulting stitched-together images, shown in “Total Plastic Gravity” at Gordon Robichaux, the buildings are bent, threatening to collapse, and the figures staticky, slightly doubled, compressed.
As if in homage to the bricolage nature of a city subjected to centuries of tenants, zoning laws, and natural and technological shifts, Relph’s compositions have an element of collage and assemblage. They are layered with washes of color or swirls of graffiti. Works are concatenated in arrangements, including, in one, a fringed scarf. It bears an obscured Comme de Garçons logo, a nod to another element of New York City’s streetscape, its venerable fashion houses and their dispersal via streetwear-clad pedestrians. (Comme de Garçons labels appear on two other works as well as a stamp of the former address of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.)
A photograph of a generic mixed-use building—ubiquitous in cities like New York, with its flat cement walls and wide, featureless windows—looks almost like abstract planes of dulled color. The Girl from Nowhere (2022) features panes of rich blue that have been entirely sundered from spatial context; they could be the blue of a billboard, of foam insulation, of a strip of denim. And fully abstract works such as Lusty Ghost (29) (2017), in which two slightly destabilized black rectangles are set against a sky-blue ground, might reference artists who called New York home, such as Mark Rothko—or they might just be two dark silhouettes, lost in space. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Nick Relph, Becky Sharp, 2022. Unique Cibachrome collage on board in frame, 42.5 x 28.5 inches. Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY and Herald St, London. Photo Ryan Page.