It would be fair to call Jon Axelrod’s paintings synesthetic. They are, after all, visual representations of sound. However, these aren’t the idiosyncratic cross-sense connections of an unfettered mind. His is a willful synesthesia. Axelrod uses science and math to reveal relationships between color, shape and sound. He finds kinship, for example, in the frequency of high-pitched tones and the high-frequency wavelengths of blues and violets.
Axelrod’s creativity is borne of constraint. “I am interested in how a system that is completely closed can still have mystery and allow for free will,” he writes in his artist’s statement. This methodical style can yield exciting results. Yet, of the 13 pieces in “Imaginary Oscillations,” on display at New York’s Hadas Gallery through February 28, his most recent paintings feel the most restricted. You feel him pushing against, but subdued by the increasingly clear and strong rules guiding his work. The question is, must he push harder or surrender completely to find the freedom he seeks?
View a slideshow of images from ‘Imaginary Oscillations’:
Two paintings from 2007 hang in the aisle leading into the small, single-room gallery. They provide a brief introduction to Axelrod’s style. In “Midnight Echo Locator,” fluid curves and razor-sharp lines comingle to create an unbroken abstraction that resembles wildstyle graffiti. Axelrod lays down rosy reds and glacial blues in seductively glassy strokes.
With “Evolutionary Math” (2010), he moves toward a more stringent underlying order. Colors and shapes start to cluster in different areas of the canvas. It’s a welcome calm that continues with “Iso,” a gentle green color field, which becomes the backdrop for three more paintings from 2010. At times, the intensified rigor spawns playful little creatures, like psychedelic snails and big-eyed fish. But the more you see, the more you wonder if the calm is in fact fatigue. Frequently, the abstractions look like idle amoebas at the bottom of a still, dark pond.
It’s either intentional or happily coincidental that “Hydration-Morphology” (2007) comes after these pieces. The painting — the largest in the show — shocks you awake. A contiguous tangle in screaming red, orange and purple unravels over the space, reaching for the edges. But there is order: Rounder puddles of paint slip to the bottom while thin spears stick to the top.
The piece provides clear evidence that Axelrod can balance control and chaos. And it inspires optimism. “Imaginary Oscillations” doesn’t feel like a complete show; it feels like a condensed chapter. You want to see where Axelrod’s mind and research will go next — and hope that his hand will follow.
Slideshow: Order, Chaos and Psychedelic Snails