David Deutsch is an artist’s artist. When I conjure Deutsch’s name in conversation, it’s usually artists that have been working for more than two decades who greet me with a raised eyebrow. Don’t sleep on Deutsch. For the past fifty years, he has actively questioned the narrative of painting, photography, and image-making in general through highly innovative approaches. This monograph, put out by the can-do-no-wrong Radius Books here in Santa Fe, is full of surprises for any artist who claims to know all things Deutsch. Case in point, in 1970, in step with many of his peers who were radically dematerializing the art object, Deutsch, still in Los Angeles, pared down Morris Louis’s veil painting techniques to ink on a wall. Tacking large sheets of polyethylene to his studio wall, Deutsch made formal decisions on composition and then proceeded to inject ink with syringes in various areas of the tacked plastic. The surface event is something we painters like to refer to as “alchemy,” but in reality, what we’re witnessing is the capillary action of the ink flowing in between the drywall and the plastic sheeting (in some cases upward, gravity be damned) leaving only open space where air bubbles are trapped beneath the plastic. The effect is a billowing, mural-scale painting with seductive, crisp contours that finds harmony in its own physicality. This work is pure on process and high on beauty.
There’s also a remarkably vulnerable long-form interview between Deutsch and art critic Jarrett Earnest that comes across as natural and completely unscripted. It’s a fast read and a refreshing alternative to the traditional and stuffy approach to catalogue essays. In a personal moment reflecting on a five-year period of private reevaluation in the studio after moving to New York, Deutsch shares, “I’m always skeptical, doubtful, of the thinking behind my work—maybe less so now.” Maybe. He has a generous humility that doesn’t seem so common these days. A standout anecdote is Deutsch describing how his Surveillance paintings and the reality show Cops led to the Nightsun photographs. The Nightsun series are aerial photographs of homes and backyards, unkempt and clearly lived-in, that feed our voyeuristic impulses. Spoiler alert: after frustrations of photographing from a fast-moving helicopter, Deutsch found himself hauling a Nightsun searchlight and generator on a trailer through small-town neighborhoods in upstate New York at three in the morning, taking photos for his series. Deutsch admits, “There is a little bit of rudeness to it.”