Words by Hunter Braithwaite
Into the Rainbow Vein, the debut solo exhibition of Magnus Sodamin, features a series of paintings monumental and psychedelic. Reaching up to 15 feet in height, they appear on the barren floating walls of Primary Project’s new space like totems from a gigantic pipedream. The bright and varied palette that Sodamin brings to these compositions—acrylic mainly, and house paint—ramrods the eye, creating a retinal buzz that seeps into the inner ear. An impressive debut, but with paintings this big, how could it not be? Sodamin, who got his BFA from New World in 2012, uses a tight level of control over the paint to create a jittery symphony of spills and variegated ripples. When the surface gets too reflective, he applies a layer of washed out gel medium to dull it, creating a sleek rake of reflection and absorption. Pouring, however, is nothing new, and the problem with this process is that he hasn’t done enough to make it completely his own. Another problem is that it’s not one process, but what seems like a deep-breathed intermission in a manic play of exploration and discovery. While the Primary show was obviously edited down for cohesion’s sake, some one-offs and stray notes found their way in, and diminish the effect of the whole. Some of the canvases include flowers done in the figurative mode of graffiti stencil. Going in this direction, there are one or two places where the viewer spots that ever-embarrassing vestigial tail of a painter’s youth—the drip of spray paint placed compositionally like a stalactite. I have a feeling that this keepsake from a young artist’s romance with the feel and intoxicating smell of painting will soon be ditched. And rightfully so, as these paintings aren’t so much Wynwood Walls as Wynwood sidewalks, the shoe-printed index of those who came up around art in that neighborhood.
Then there is the subject matter. The artist statement places his work somewhere between the “non-objective” and the “natural” (and, by that, I suppose, the content based). For the latter, take the titles, which in the main gallery take on the poetry of haikus or death-metal liner notes—“Roses are Black,” “Nordic Garden,” or “Radiant Orchid”— surely begging naturalistic readings, and encouraging the viewer to form constellations out of the stars, as it were.But then in the project room, which is as big as other downtown galleries, the artist has created a series of 61 square-foot paintings on panels. They seem to be the notes or Photoshop brushes which come together to form his large works. Each contains a slightly different swirl and color, but all are entombed under a thick sheet of natural-hued resin, the effect of which provides a strange connection back to Paul Thek. Interestingly, these lack the titles of the large works. They’re simply numbered. While this could have been laziness on the artist’s part (“61 more haikus, aww man…”) it also reveals a canny awareness of serial production, a concept that any painter looking to make work for a gallery should understand. But are these a comment on the gallery system, or an attempt to capitalize on it? Need we bicker over differences?Between these two bodies of work, and within the compositions of the larger paintings, there is also a sense of the micro jettying into the macro. And with that, the impression that these paintings are trying to do everything, which is way too much. In order to be effective, a canvas of this size must be perfectly diffuse, or funneled in such a way that the eye becomes the jug, and not the thumb in the end of a garden hose. In many ways, this painting show highlights the struggles of a young painter. How to make liquid dry in a way unique to yourself, how to temper color, how to decide what you want to do and to do it? They’re respectable paintings, for sure, but perhaps, like the just-post Big Bang universe, they are still in a process of formation.