About recent work

My paintings investigate ephemeral language and geometric abstraction. They contain written lists, diagrammed into highly chromatic color structures. These panels might be called illuminated lexicons of 21st century life.

Written in these paintings are collections of ambient found language from street signs, email, user agreements, packaging, news reports, and other sources. From the relentless flow of information surrounding us, I collect words to use as the DNA for generative forms. Each panel is a slate, on which penciled and inked text and notations accompany geometric configurations of acrylic gouache paint. I print columns of letters and code them into corresponding columns and rows of painted geometry. In some paintings the same text is coded in more than one way. Different visual elements—color, mark, shape, division—yield tiled structures, linear networks, and other visual systems.

These works originated with small studies on graph paper in my datebook, made while riding the subway. To escape my habits of composition, I played games with numbers, randomness, and, finally, words. The written and visual results had a crazy logic and optical complexity that I'm still pursuing two decades later.

I find lists inherently lyrical. I don’t index language to make overt statements, but the words in these paintings reflect how things are, in my life and in the world. Some lists document a journey or record scraps of texted conversation. Some are catalogs: as of acronyms, names of streets, and bird species. Others are rosters of related fragments from disparate sources: mismatched strings of instructions, guarantees, warnings. These written artifacts of my political, social, and personal environment may be banal, nostalgic, ominous, or absurd.

Some viewers choose to read the panels; others experience them primarily optically. The writing is a resonant fine print. I hope the works as a whole, with their regimented tangles of notation and paint, have a visual presence requiring no glossary. I use words to explore painting, and vice versa. I examine language in a search to excite the eye.

Leslie Roberts