Esther Stocker


There is the reassurance in a big City like New York, which mainly follows the structure of a grid, that you can't get too lost even if you don't know where you're going. Tenth Avenue follows Ninth Avenue, 23rd Street comes after 22nd, and so on. But if one of Esther Stocker's grid paintings were to be overlaid on the "map" of the city, we would be telling a quite different story. Eighth Avenue might lead to Tenth, and 22nd would skip 23rd entirely. At times Stocker's paintings offer a type of painterly gridlock — visual "traffic" blocking the intersections of a painting — or suggest a grid that has been infected by a computer virus. Her works play off the expectation that vertical and horizontal lines will intersect, that parallel lines will remain in place; in her world, the otherwise rational grid is wayward, and neatly ordered space can no longer be relied on. Stocker's paintings introduce aberrations and disorder where we expect none, and she engages the geometric precisely for it to be undermined. Hers is an unpredictable geometry, one in which, as Martin Prinzhorn has noted, the simplicity of abstraction does not yield "clarity and order, but rather a very fundamental chaos and disturbance." There is a temporal aspect as well, and not merely because her works can have a highly optical presence, but because one can't help but wonder: did all these lines meet up at some previous point in time?
In Untitled (2005), a grid composed of white "tiles" with black "grouting," three major insertions/deviations disrupt what would otherwise be a flat, overall, gridded picture: a vertical band on the far left, and two horizontal sections, one at the top-right corner and another coming up from the bottom. It's as if sections of three identical paintings had been cut and irregularly laid on top of the picture. One imagines the wall of a tiled bathroom that has shifted like so many small tectonic plates, registering a disturbance while at the same time holding their place just enough for us to realign them, or attempt to realign them. lt's human nature that compels us to "right" or "true" the visual world around us when it fails to correspond with the body and with the eye. Stocker exploits this almost unavoidable tendency with her ambiguous abstractions.
A number of works from 2008 find various ways to intentionally pursue this idea of perceptual doubt and uncertainty. In one, a black and white grid is overlaid with a white "trellis" that sits at an angle tilting upwards to the right. The effect is such that its white lines appear to ripple as they pass through the grid below, when they are in fact as straight as any other lines in the picture.
In another a checkerboard is composed of white squares and irregular black forms that do not always meet up according to the usual check pattern, and the imperfection destabilizes and highly animates the overall field, which buzzes, bulges, and wavers. Yet another recent work, also black and white, appears to have dissolved, and no matter how hard the viewer tries, there is no bringing it back into focus. The image, were it to be tinted olive green, might very well resemble military netting, and it's certainly worth considering not just this painting but indeed Stocker's whole body of work in relation to the idea of concealment. "Painting certainly has something to do with camouflage," Stocker has remarked. "I am fascinated by the idea that a picture is something like a camouflage." While camouflage is a pattern that enables a foreign object to appear as if it is part of the natural surroundings, it can't be Stocker's intention for her works to hide in plain sight, as it were; rather, it's the "double life" these paintings lead — what we see and don't see, or what we don't see and want to see — that interests us. In addition to paintings on canvas, Stocker has made many site-specific wall paintings and room installations over the last eight or nine years.
The total environments are analogous to stepping inside one of her paintings, and so she "three-dimensionalizes" and disorients a space that viewers can actually enter and move through. These can be seen as theatricalized spatial environments in which viewers become figures on a stage and yet are simultaneously alien and apart from a proscenium.
For an installation in 2005 at the Projektraum Deutscher Künstlerbund in Berlin, From the Point of View of Geometry, All Directions in Space Are Equal, Stocker applied black masking tape to the walls and floor, as well as to wooden boxes that projected from the walls, floor, and ceiling — some like tables, benches, and pedestals, and others, with no apparent function, that absurdly intrude.
To enter this room is to be inside the white (striped) cube. When photos of her installations include people, the figures uneasily merge with the image/space, and it's easy to imagine them as having been inserted into a simulated three-dimensional model — the flattened surface of a computer screen or a sheet of isometric paper — to which the title, All Directions in Space Are Equal, can be understood to refer. With this installation Stocker has made physical what exists as illusion in her paintings, in which parts seem to move toward the viewer. Even if viewers can occupy and navigate within these rooms, it's the viewer who is always what's "wrong" or inconsistent with the picture: the viewer as space invader. With Stocker's paintings, despite their twodimensional limits and fairly modest scale, they ultimately expand perception, defy expectations, and "perform" for the viewer.

From: Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting by Bob Nickas, p. 100, PHAIDON Press, 2009.