Rob Halverson: Untitled, 2016, solidified paint on canvas, 84 by 58 inches; at Soloway.

Rob Halverson presented a focused selection of new works (all 2016) in “All Repeat,” his show at Soloway in Brooklyn. Austere paintings and works on paper depicting vaguely diagrammatic forms were juxtaposed with photographs and personal ephemera. The imagery in the three untitled black-and-white paintings on view appears to have been stenciled or printed—the process is not entirely clear. Halverson rendered the schematic imagery with mechanical precision in a style that resembles the single-pixel plotting of dot-matrix printouts. Even the minute wavering of the lines appears calculated. Such careful idiosyncrasies suggest the influence of a lo-fi, mechanical image production method and imbue the work with an awkward grace. 

In each painting Halverson restricted the abstracted diagrams to a 8½-inch-by-7-foot area (out of a 4½-foot-wide canvas), and certain figurative elements recur from piece to piece. One work depicts a bubble enclosed by a rectangle with rounded edges—suggestive, perhaps, of some Apple product in profile. The bubble reappears in a second painting, this time enclosing two black rectangles and an inky splatter. In the third painting, an irregular black form is the ground for the silhouette of an ambiguous shape that could be a feather, a frond or a small, spiraling galaxy. There may be an underlying logic to the repeated forms, which appear cemented in the gesso. Yet many of the images are symbols of ephemerality (bubbles, feathers, microscopic electronics and cosmic dust) that seem to drift, double, distort and degrade. 

Despite their apparent refinement, the paintings deviate from Halverson’s otherwise exacting technical approach in subtle but important ways. Light brushstrokes bristle on the gessoed surfaces, and small, fragile inconsistencies in the paint give texture to the images. The material imperfections evident in the works, as well as in the two drawings that look like details from the paintings hanging nearby, reveal the conscientious stylization of Halverson’s plotter-hand. 

Two other works introduced non sequiturs—an unframed diptych of 5-by-7 photos depicting seedpods in window screens, and an irreverent and gross little mud-ball sculpture containing hair and nail clippings that sat high on the gallery’s fuse box. These works are sappy and humanizing and fail to achieve the same alluring mystification of the other works in the show.

“All Repeat,” the exhibition’s title, appeared as the sole text on the press release, where the words were spelled out in caps along a vertical axis. That composition recurs in a poster-size work on paper. The self-reflexive repetition of the phrase as a label, explanation, work, etc., tended to confuse rather than elucidate. Like the paintings, which, by convention, the press release is meant to clarify, the language acts like a machine awaiting user input. “All Repeat” is a mantra for the works in the show. The title phrase may offer an incantation for the do-and-do-again of artistic practice, which requires the careful performance of workaday tasks: maintaining the studio, priming the canvas, rendering precise lines. Instead of drudgery, “repeat,” in this context, suggests care, focus and refinement.