“Bottom Breather” by Jason Gubbiotti (2018)

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Jason Gubbiotti has never gone big. He is the rare abstract painter who has kept to a scale that is close and intimate, never using sheer size to woo the viewer. His hard-edged paintings fall within the Goldilocks range: not-too-large and not-too-small. In almost every other way, though, Gubbiotti bucks the bounds of the picture plane. Some of his works could be shields. One of them is shaped like the hood of a vintage muscle car. Some of his recent paintings aren’t paintings at all. In Things Are As They Seem, Gubbiotti punches through the wall and enters into hard sculpture territory.

Longtime viewers will see a lot of change in Gubbiotti’s latest show at Civilian Art Projects. A graduate of the former Corcoran College of Art & Design, and now based outside Paris, Gubbiotti got his first solo show in 2001 at Fusebox, a perfect white-cube gallery on 14th Street NW, back when most of its storefronts were either fish stands or boarded up. “Lion’s Club” (2016 and 2018) could have fit right into one of his older shows: Gubbiotti paints by applying careful layers of acrylic bound by tape to make superfine lines, borders, and territories, as in this trippy painting. “Lion’s Club” falls somewhere between a heat map of a military installation and the playfield of an acid-tinted pinball game. The bottom edges of the painting are nicked off; Gubbiotti has no use for squares.

“Subspace” (2018–19) is a rehash of the shield form that Gubbiotti first debuted in his last show with Civilian (Glass Giant in 2017). The piece features acrylic over felt on wood and a slit in its bottom center. Teal and gold tints dare the viewer to carry it off to a Legend of Zelda cosplay session. The painting stands on the floor, leaning against the wall and hiding a secret—a reverse face painted a brilliant orange. Gubbiotti has always played with perspective in his works, especially in abstractions that take the form of topographical maps, casting the viewer into surveyor mode. But this work works in three dimensions.

“Fighting in the Age of Loneliness” (2019) takes it even further. It’s a doormat, more or less: an acrylic painting on a rubber base that’s been plopped haphazardly on the floor. Part of it falls askew onto the wall where the floor meets the corner. It’s a sad trombone of a piece, a floppy painting that looks like it came loose from its place of pride on the wall and slid cartoon-like into its sadsack status. The fact that it’s such a simple abstraction (green and orange shapes bound by a white border)  makes it seem like a sarcastic send-up of the whole enterprise of painting. Between “Loneliness” and “FIREBIRD” (2018), a black chevron on a fiery red shaped canvas—or the hood of a bitchin’ 1974 Pontiac Trans Am—Gubbiotti’s just having fun.

“The Science of Swearing” (2019) is an ambitious and vexing painting, if that’s the word for it. The piece looks like several canvases stitched together to form a board, one attached to the wall by a pair of long pine-green dowel rods and suspended from the ceiling by yellow string. Trapezoids and rhombuses from Gubbiotti’s geometric paintings bleed out into space itself in this painting, which is really an installation.  

Even as he flexes in three dimensions, Gubbiotti makes work that still resonates most on the surface. “Drawing Book”—a series of 30 drawings produced by Gubbiotti over the span of seven months—hammers the point home. Each drawing is a meticulous abstraction comprising simple tiny square marks arranged in endlessly imaginative ways. The drawings look like dot-matrix prints, his points so precise that they could be computational. Even with his drawings, Gubbiotti introduces layered paper or cutouts to defy the conventional image plane. Each drawing has its own rhythm, even though the drawings as a bunch are repetitive: clever variations on a theme.

For his next act, Gubbiotti could wind up ditching the canvas altogether. The artist’s work is treading new ground as he takes tentative steps into space and sculpture.  As a painter who shapes every canvas he makes, he can already list woodwork as one of his core strengths. But transition is just another tool for Gubbiotti to bring to bear in his investigation of planes and perimeters. Whether he’s spinning out mind-numbing patterns over dozens and dozens of pages or stringing a painting up as a sculpture, Gubbiotti never loses sight of his true focus: line and color.

At Civilian Art Projects to March 23. 1469R Harvard Street NW. Free. civilianartprojects.com.