THE DYNAMICS OF URBANIZATION
By current critical definition, painter Robert Naish's work should fall into the category of "Outsider Art",
the latter-day adjunct of Art Brut or primitivism, which stands apart from mainstream artistic thinking,
language, and conventions. Actually, he is too inherently sophisticated for such lumping in, although
as a distinct loner he has discovered a fertile ground which lies beyond inhibition, short-lived fashion,
and the bewildering distractions and contradictions of postmodernist art.
He has forged ahead, utilizing no more than a spray gun and templates adapted from found objects
to project his visions and psychic reactions to the contemporary urban environment in which he finds
The richly coloured layers of his paintings also attest to the control and design sense, which obviously
come to him intuitively. Naish's creations come, he says, "from silence: from thinking and dreaming",
alone in his studio. They are an act of meditation on shapes and colour and placement, carried on in
the spirit of a Zen-like game of solitaire.
His motifs and lines are based not only on standard hard-edge mechanisms, but an enormous array
of vacuum-molded junk, detritus, children's toys, grids and filigrees - gathered from an urban culture
of indifferent and endless disposal - anything with discrete edges which may act as a "negative" for
the most unlikely and unpredictable "positive" aura.
The end result of these phased, accretive procedures is a kind of map-like or screen-like readout
of his contemplative excursions. Almost without exception, the paintings are lucid and accessible.
They contain an interior logic which is graspable to anyone who has ever dealt with choice and
order, chance and resolution, tension and complement. Virtually all of the elements in Naish's
compositions are familiar shapes and patterns, even if fragmentary, or assigned to unfamiliar
symbolic tasks. In essence, his resolutions lie somewhere between geometric abstraction and the
principles of classic Constructivism, which favoured common materials and building blocks as a
basis for a more universal, functional art.
Naish's colour (which is more urban and synthetic than naturalistic) is vivid and saturated, with
occasional spray-gun feathering at borders. Any attempt at expressionism is achieved through
the shapes and attitudes of the overall configurations, rather than through paint handling.
The experience of pure colour is left to subjectively stimulate deeper levels of the viewer's mind.
Various colour fields support the commingling of geometric and eccentric shapes, quasi-pictographs
and calligraphies, grids and weavings, pixels and trajectories of energy - each, unfailingly locked
into a finished gestalt from which little can be added or taken away.
Aside from the shifting brilliance of Naish's colour, from one exercise to the next, the wonder is
that with such simple elements he never comes close to repeating himself - until one is reminded
of the rather numberless permutations possible in this sort of activity.
If the individual titles of these works are used as clues or cues to levels of interpretation, Naish
can tip the scales psychologically, this way and that, though some titles are deliberately
Surveillance, for instance, is fraught with sinister meaning when coupled with the association of
aerial scanning of what appears to be a cityscape looming out of the darkness: red for infrared?
Yellow for contagion? Shapes that look like radioactive warning symbols. Shapes that suggest
audiotape reels. Shapes that appear, suddenly, to be targets - largely because of a title. One
looks again, and the night "City" is really pegboard configurations, random stencil shapes and
unintelligible, frenetic circuitry. Our ability to "read in" to abstraction is much greater and more
developed than we think.
From his titles, Naish seems extremely sensitive to ways in which we can be moved to react
to the particular surface, colour, and texture of our urban, materialist, cyberspace milieu.
Some titles are clearly indictments, while others, such as Neon City remain neutral.
Neon City, with all its fluorescent range, could refer to visual pollution, but also to advertising
overkill, as in Tokyo's fabled Ginza district, where sheer proliferation of neon configurations
tend to cancel each other out - resulting in an immense Christmas tree swarm of coloured light.
Neon City could as well be a machine, a moving kaleidoscopic melange of blue, red, chrome
yellow and red-orange cogs, rods, grids and wheels, gliding in stygian darkness. There is
something actually ebullient about it - like a wondrous toy. Yet this structure is composed of
many of the same elements as%Surveillance%.
A number of Naish's paintings directly address the concept of "City" through pointed,
topographical inference: City as exploitative, money-making machine; City as planned
obsolescence; City which ignores the human dimension and scale - the opposite of cities
such as Florence and Venice, to which humanity and art were central - or the dreams of
architects such as Corbusier and Soleri.
The combination of Naish's planar paradigms and titles such as The Expansion of Territory,
Urban Assault, City at the Edge of a Desert, Game City, and Plastic City ironically treat the
board game mentality of venal over human values when cities are planned and modified.
Several of these, (Urban Assault, City at the Edge of a Desert, and Plastic City) are extremely
lyrical and precisely orchestrated as formal design and colour, aside from their more alienating
messages. Game City is perhaps inadvertently humorous, if only by stressing the power of
spectator sport: the prominent stadium/temple, and its astro-turfed triumph over nature, as a
quick bread-and-circuses fix for more than a few deeply malignant North American cities.
In his development as an artist, Robert Naish has swiftly and adequately learned the
compounded effectiveness of abstraction to boldly convey ideas and emotions. More important
to this, he is a man not without opinions - his scope is much broader and more demanding than
just producing beautiful or decorative paintings, yet many of these combine substance with a
balance of utterly simple, straightforward elements and a finesse of execution which add up to
a considerable and lasting allure.
- Ted Lindberg