The recent Washington Post obituary of Andrew Wyeth reveals that the figurative painter considered himself an abstract artist, because he didn't depict but rather evoked a metaphysical vision. This idea is at least as old as 1907, when antimodernist Max Nordau hurled it as an accusation at French symbolist Puvis de Chavannes, and while few use the word abstract with this meaning, I find the conception sympathetic rather than pejorative. If we can call it a lineage, then Brad Noble is part of it. His Beach Girl (2007-08) could be a symbolist painting, evoking rather than dispelling mystery. Is the reclining nude partly buried in the sand, or is she becoming sand? Or is the sand becoming her? Up close, she seems to be eating it. This scene is abstract in that it takes representational elements and recombines them in nonrepresentational ways.
Most of the works in "Chaotic Resolve" lack recognizable landscapes, though Lucid Dream Lab features a woman seated on the ground with her back to us, forearms wrapped in ribbons, gazing into a receding horizon. The landscape's vagueness is complicated by metallic paint that shows through, and many works have a metallic gleam impossible to capture in reproduction. Quagmire features a nude man in profile against a brown surface so shiny it looks lacquered. His back is stooped; thorny vines wind up his legs. His penis is obscured by one arm, but a lone tendril of hair curls out from between his legs at crotch-level: this, like many of Noble's images, is fraught with uncertainty, lifting as if erect, then curving down impotent, then circling back on itself, suggesting infinity. Exacerbating the whole is the man's cracking body, his missing brainpan, and the hatchet wounds dividing his neck. A couple pieces, such as Third Party, are less successful, but on the whole, this art is of productive opacity, subtly in tune with the host gallery's orientation toward surrealist abstraction.
BRAD NOBLE: CHAOTIC RESOLVE Through Feb. 24. Mon.Fri., 10 a.m.6 p.m. Weinstein Gallery, 301 Geary, SF. (415) 362-8151. www.weinstein.com