Matt Dibble's recent large oil-on-canvas paintings in Equipping the Shop for Action at Asterisk Gallery seem almost to flicker, like a cartoon flipbook caught between pages. This is odd because in most respects, they're as plain as paintings can be — line drawings in paint and charcoal firmly marked on brusque surfaces.
Dibble's muted, all-over taupes and grays are like the first uneven coat of a tasteful decorator shade on a living-room wall. Likewise, most of the objects he depicts against these sober color fields are as uninflected as he can make them: schematic charcoal outlines of furniture and utilitarian objects. An air compressor in a work titled "Building the Best Workbench" is probably the fanciest contraption shown, but mainly Dibble's barely indicated interiors (a curved line for an alcove, a vertical line for a corner) frame cement blocks, a couch, a chair, a furnace — and (whammo!) a bestiary of exotic composite monsters, also rendered in the same matter-of-fact linear style, but in dark oil paint. It's as if a minotaur's cousins and siblings floated, dream-like, into rooms that otherwise betray no imaginative dimension: Maybe Dibble's calm places — emptied of emotion or even affect — lure or conjure these weird creatures, like deep-sea fish nosing up against the glass of an aquarium.
As in many of Francis Bacon's paintings, geometric and architectural linear elements are used as a type of confining metaphysical space. In a Bacon painting, this dimension is stretched around too-solid flesh. But Dibble's figures aren't souls in torment or flesh tormented by incarnation. They're transparent and conjectural, like stick figures evolving under the pressure of an alien atmosphere. They also feel like sketches — of angels, demons — in the margins of a medieval manuscript, or like formulae for a necromancer's algebra of transformation. One thing is sure — we're looking at imagery levitated from the depths of the mind, asking questions about the thin air of our reality and the fluid strangeness of our own presence in the world. Who are these spirits, configured like masks or Celtic daydreams, with claws and carapaces and memories of ancient gods, but us — our true shapes compounded of our ancestors, flickering behind the ordinariness of daily things?
Dibble's work is also currently on view at Tregoning & Co. It's a mix of his current paintings with other, entirely abstract works completed since 2000. There's a touch of Cezanne here, a bit of Leger there and a fascination with material on its own terms, including construction-grade adhesive. Showing some of the breadth of Dibble's efforts and his consistency as he explores different ways to fill a pictorial rectangle with shapes and motion and a sense of soul, Tregoning's picks cast light on this extraordinary painter's over-all project. At once a materialist and a mystic, Dibble ranges through the history of painting and the physiological basis of the mind, remembering that all we know is eternally in flux.