One senses a materiality trying to escape from these paintings. In some of them Unterhaslberger traps the work behind a clear acrylic screen by applying the paint, sometimes thickly, to the back of the acrylic leaving us to view a perfectly flat surface. Guessing at the dimension that lies beneath is joyful rather than mysterious.
In others, another layer of painted acrylic sits beneath the first layer. These layers of both paint and support create an interesting historical tension between, on one hand, Unterhaslberger’s abstract painting with calligraphic and expressionistic brush strokes, and on the other hand Luminism and other landscape traditions that rely on the transparency of paint to portray light. Unterhaslberger shows a number of landscapes amidst the mostly abstract work, using the transparency of the support rather than the paint to achieve luminosity.
The best works allow the materiality of the paint to protrude from the surface, and for good measure throw in the mix other media like dirt, creating a kind of artistic mirepoix. These works also use a subtler palette, as in Ault One. In these gems Unterhaslberger is showing an exquisite sense of nuance while at the same time letting go and embracing some sort of chaos that has something to do with the ancient inspirations and uses for art. This occurs in the refreshingly opaque realm beyond the intellect, so don’t try to formulate a logical response to it. By definition abstract art is open to numerous interpretations and directions, but I envision Unterhaslberger working toward a rare balance of iron-like control and intuition.
Speaking of nuance, Unterhaslberger’s restraint in smaller pieces like Sprout are in keeping with a post-minimal tradition that, while beautiful in their own right, don’t quite gel with the rest of the work unless thought of as tiny interventions of restrained studies to inform the larger paintings. Other works, like Vanity are even more disparate with its large textural collaged surface, spray-painted silver with a cigarette butt inserted; I can’t help but recall post-modernism’s annoying embrace of irony and shiny surfaces. This disparity, and some of the less coherent work, reminds us that Unterhaslberger is still a student and is experimenting. Something I hope he doesn’t stop doing.
One last thing to mention that the art intelligentsia usually deem improper to consider in relation to the critique of art: cost. Unterhaslberger supposedly used to hawk his paintings and drawings on the sidewalks in front of the gallery at which he’s now showing his work. In keeping with this casual indifference, Unterhaslberger’s paintings are priced very reasonably (which is one reason the show is almost sold-out). I don’t sense that this is marketing to sell paintings for the sake of sales, but rather a comment on the nature of Unterhaslberger’s work itself – work that is intuitive and joyful. Unterhaslberger is making it easy to share that intuition and joy.