Philip Taaffe, “Painting with Diatoms and Shells I” (2022), mixed media on canvas, 24 1/2 x 39 inches
I have previously likened Philip Taaffe to a scholar-alchemist, a scribe, a seer, and an inducer of trance states in a digital age. A technical master who has used techniques as distinct as marbling, decalcomania, silkscreen, linocuts, collage, stencils, and rubber stamps in his work, Taaffe described his art to the great visionary filmmaker Stan Brakhage as “a sort of crystallized cinema.” The surface of a crystal reflects its internal symmetry, while film is a membrane through which light passes. As I see it, Taaffe wants to synthesize symmetry and layers to attain an in-between state, as in the process of change. In that world, ornamental and fossil patterns become significant forms, while printmaking and collage take on the character of painting. From early on, there was something fresh and challenging about Taaffe, who did not rely on gesture and geometry, New York school standbys, to make large, ambitious works.