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Painters' Table Blog
Observation and Invention: The Space of Desire is on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, through April 6, 2014. The show features paintings by Michael Ananian, Lennart Anderson, Victoria Barnes, David Campbell, Tim Conte, Edwin Dickinson, Frank Galuszka, Elizabeth Geiger, Philip Geiger, Mark Green, David Jewell, Ben Kamihira, Tim Kennedy, Matt Klos, John Lee, Aaron Lubrick, Eve Mansdorf, George Nick, Scott Noel, Andrew Patterson-Tutschaka, Carolyn Pyfrom, Erin Raedeke, Brian Rego, Neil Riley, Thomas Walton, and Peter Van Dyck.
In a new video, produced by John Thornton, painter/curator Scott Noel discusses a lineage of observational painting that spans four generations from Edwin Dickinson to recent graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
In the video Noel remarks: "The hope is that the show makes a convincing case, that a space is preserved in contemporary art for just this practice - this search for poetry in a direct and unmediated experience of looking. This particular activity is getting more and more marginal, at least in critical debate. There are very few critics or thinkers about contemporary painting that are much invested in defending the idea that direct observational response could be an interesting premise for a life lived in art."
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Three artists exhibiting side-by-side at the Painting Center are presenting refreshingly straightforward abstractions. Each with her own distinct approach, Marianne Gagnier, Suzanne Kammin and Ro Lohin make well-crafted paintings that renew Ab-Ex innovations.
Marianne Gagnier’s canvases are pared down to the basics. Forgoing design ideas and compositional games, these plainspoken artworks are comprised solely of energetic strokes of richly pigmented, fluid paint. Made with thinned acrylic that splashes and puddles across the canvas, the nine pieces on display look like they were painted face-up on a tabletop - the worked, multi-layered surfaces smooth as ice.
Chanson, 2013, has a dark indigo background, with short strokes of orange, red and yellow evoking the lights of a city after hours. Across the top of this painting, a wobbly stroke of turquoise dangles like a ruffled ribbon. Night Window, 2013, also evokes a city after dark, but in this canvas the velocity of Gagnier’s strokes have the speed of highway traffic. In one corner of the wet-into-wet painting, scarlet red marbleizes with vermillion while tiny lemon-yellow dots sprayed across the canvas look like reflections on glass.
In Daphne Versus, 2013, light green strokes sweeping across dappled pale blue evokes trees against sky. In the catalog accompanying the exhibition Gagnier says these works are “inscapes,” studio creations that “evolved from years of painting landscape on site.”
In the adjoining gallery Suzanne Kammin’s oil-on-panel compositions are hard-edged arrangements of shapes in synthetic colors, paint squeegeed to a smooth finish. Crisp shapes seem to have been taped off, meandering lines the width of masking tape exposing layers of under-painting while guiding the eye around the pictures. Magenta, olive green and grey shapes push against each other in Many Happy Returns, 2012-2013, a painting that contrasts large expanses of color against scumbled paint, showing off Kammin’s feel for materials.
Ro Lohin’s paintings, exhibited in the Painting Center’s Project Room, were made outside during the winter of 2011. The all-over compositions here have strong calligraphic strokes reminiscent of Mark Tobey’s “white writing.” Lohin’s thinly painted drippy marks, inspired by bare trees and snow, convey crisp winter light. Subtle off-whites are contrasted against bright blue curlicues in Blue Passage. Ochre and red strokes here and there add complexity to this picture, a painting that serves as a welcome reminder of the beauty in snowfall.
In a December 2013 art review in the online magazine Hyperallergic titled Painting, Perception, and the Emphatically Handmade, Thomas Micchelli writes that a “recent resurgence of interest in contemporary painting has posited the unique object — especially the handcrafted, the slapped-together, and the aggressively tactile — as yin to neo-conceptualism’s yang, a raggedy-edged refutation of the factory-finished, the reproducible, and the overly cerebral.”
In line with this trend, Gagnier, Kammin and Lohin, though all handling paint differently, rely on a sense of touch to convey their unique sensibilities, though here high-level craftsmanship is maintained.
Alfredo Gisholt: Canto General is on view at the CUE Art Foundation from January 30 - March 8, 2014.
Alfredo Gisholt is a painter of “pictures,” a rarity in today's art world. Unabashed in his embrace of the history of painting, Gisholt paints timeless, poetic worlds where the everyday and the grand tradition of painting merge. Gisholt and I discussed his recent work via email on the occasion of his exhibition Canto General, currently on view at the CUE Art Foundation. -- Brett Baker
Painters’ Table (PT): You wear your influences on your sleeve, quoting forms from Picasso, Goya, and John Walker, to name a few. For instance, in several works a version of Goya’s Straw Mannequin is flung atop huddled masses of both gestural and appropriated forms. The mannequins, Picasso-like birds, and sheep skulls that appear in your work are very overt allusions. Their inclusion seems to mourn the disappearing tradition of imaginative picture-making while much painting today is heavily invested in theory and/or materials. Are your works critiques of contemporary painting?
AG: No, they are not a critique. I don't like to think of my painting in those terms. I have always felt that theory does not make for very good painting. In fact, it gets in the way of it. And neither does pushing material around. Painting has always felt inclusive to me - it does more than just address this one thing or this other thing. Rembrandt leaves nothing out.
All the painters you mention, and there are others, are very important to me. For years I have drawn in front of their paintings as a way of seeing them. These drawings, which I make on my sketchbook, find themselves becoming a part of the language of my paintings. After I draw them I feel I somehow own them. It is the same with a plant or a skull. Plus, I have never been afraid of influences. I also surround myself with the things I paint - a tipped over trash can, a leftover piece of steel, a lantern, etc. - and when you put all of it together there are going to be allusions. I like being a part of painting's history and welcome it in my studio.
PT: Your work made me think of the famous Guston quote about the studio being populated with all of the artist’s influences - “friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas.” The artist bids farewell to each, and to himself in the course of working. At the end only the painting remains. Your paintings, however, seem to have invited these influences back again, gathered them together in a heap on the studio floor. As a viewer I get the feeling these paintings are about what creates us; they suggest that the sources of our being are too meaningful to be discarded. That’s an important statement to make with a painting, yet it’s also one that risks sentimentality.
AG: I really like that description of them. I don't understand why sentiment has become a bad word in painting. It is important for me to feel something as I paint and somehow evidence that emotion. It is a great ambition to make paint do that - Goya does. Maybe that is where meaning comes from.
A few years ago I stood in front of a large Olmec head. It had a very powerful presence - not an illusion of something, it felt real. Not too long after, I came across a small Rembrandt painting of the Deposition of Christ - it reminded me of the head I saw. It was a cluster of figures. I came back to the studio and started painting a group of figures and wanted them to feel like the Olmec head. More recently De Kooning has been a powerful presence in my studio after the show at MOMA. He titled the painting "Attic" because it had everything one would find in the attic. I put as much stuff in a painting as I think is needed to say something bigger than the objects or forms in it. Diego, my oldest son, is always asking me why I paint the dump. I tell him that Guston did it too.
PT: Your smaller works read differently than the larger ones. The scale of the elements is similar, but they have a different character. The backgrounds are more saturated in color and several feature a landscape divided by a river. The forms heaped in the foreground are dark and more indistinct, and many of the small pictures feel like night paintings.
AG: I have always made both large and small paintings. Easel size paintings are very difficult for me.
The river paintings are the last ones I did. As I mentioned, De Kooning has loomed large recently. He paralyzed me for a bit. So much so that I painted like him for a few months. During this time, I had a large canvas and decided to paint a tribute painting to Matisse's "Turtle" painting which has long haunted me as an image - Matisse has some moments where paintings are totally unprecedented. I had Matisse on one wall and De Kooning on the other. I finished them and put them away.
In making the paintings for this show I wanted to somehow tie it all together. Neruda helped. The very early ones and smallest paintings served as a starting point. I never make studies. Most of my small paintings are made from the larger ones as a way to see possibilities. I have always felt that I need to see these possibilities and not just think of them. They also give me the chance to simplify and make some things clear. The paintings you describe are made from the last painting I finished. They opened things up again and at the same time they started to go in a different direction. Now I have to catch up to them.
PT: Yes, that's just it - valuing the history of painting as a present, generative force. I feel that in this work and it feels genuine and deeply embedded.
I understand the paintings aren't intentional critiques, but they do seem to inherently question the type of painting enjoying a lot of attention these days - paintings that come out of materials or theory and a modernist/postmodernist drive towards the "new," whatever that might be. I'm thinking of exhibitions like Painter Painter at the Walker Art Center last year. Co-curator Eric Crosby, in an interview about the show, stated specifically that the artists "go where the materials take them, not where the history of painting tells them to go."
That show also had a lot to do with bringing other mediums to bear in a painting context - painting as "a frame for contact" - as if painting needs extending beyond itself. For me, your work posits the opposite, that there's plenty to explore within painting and that, as painters, we should immerse ourselves in the mysterious achievements of the medium. There's plenty of positive critique in that.
AG: I want to feel that I am on the train - the train that goes back 5000 years to the art of Mesopotamia as De Kooning described it. At some point artists felt that they rather be off this train - not sure when or why it happened. There are so called artists to blame for this. Artists that felt that it was enough to point to things, to signal, to remind people of something else as opposed to make something that truly enhances life's experience. Van Gogh changed the way we look at things - the sky was orange and the grass was blue.
I protect myself from discourse. For years I argued about those mysterious achievements in painting with some who felt it was the stuff of the past. Not anymore - I just don't think about it. I saw the Emperor, and he is not wearing any clothes. So I make paintings with the ambition to contribute to its history. When I was a guard at the Guggenheim in Venice, I always asked to be sent to the Pollock room. I would spend eight hours in front of those paintings and draw. I would leave and go to San Rocco and see Tintoretto and they were the same thing. By the way, Pollock looks great in Venice. Theory has become the new academy - who remembers Puvis des Chavannes? I would rather be a 'fauve'.
PT: That Pollock's works hold their own in Venice is not surprising to me, but it's an important context in which to view his work. In New York it is impossible to see his paintings outside the context of New York School mythology, but in Venice they're just great paintings in the company of other great paintings.
It's interesting that you spent so much time with those particular Pollocks. The mid-40s Pollocks in Venice - I'm thinking of Circumcision (1946), Bird Effort (1946) and an Untitled painting from that same year. Forms tangle and wrestle in those works, struggling to release themselves into pure energy. Pollock, as he developed early on, felt this release of form as an imperative, but in his last works that energy begin to reassemble into figures. Those last paintings are useless to the story of Modernism but are perhaps his most significant statement about painting - that the artist must, at some point, return to the source.
AG: The forms were there to liberate his painting - to have a structure to pin things down. I drew Circumcision almost every day. You are right, Venice gave me the chance to see Pollock in a different light. I think Pollock at the end felt he had gone too far with the drip paintings, or as far as he could go. That last room at the show at MOMA - those last paintings were about starting again - going back to figuration, returning to the source. In those 1940's paintings I saw a way to paint like Titian and Tintoretto. Pollock showed me the way.
PT: Tintoretto's staging of figures, and combination of deep space and flat forms seems to have had a lasting affect on your work as well, except in your work they're flip-flopped. Your figurative piles are set against flattened fields that stand in for deep space.
Tintoretto was the person I discovered while in Venice. I knew the others. One day I walked into Scuola Grande di San Rocco where he painted like 20 large paintings. There was a restorer working on a small ceiling panel. The place smelled like paint! - because of the smell it seemed like the paintings had just been made. Something changed that day and I went back every day off I had.
Cézanne has me thinking of pictorial space - illusion and flatness. I do not want my paintings to be like windows, I want them to feel like a wall.
PT: Drawing from paintings seems key to gaining a deeper understanding of them. Drawing, used this way, asks vital questions - “How do these forms interact? Can I follow them? Why this way and not that way?" This kind of visual investigation is profitable to the artist and it's fundamentally different from theoretical questioning. It's about the artist's (both the original artist and the one making the study) active immersion in the moment. It’s very unlike theory which is more about positioning the work and soliciting a particular response in the viewer.
AG: Drawing is the only way I have found where I can see and think visually simultaneously. It also allows me to slow down, to move across and through an image, to follow someone's hand and internalize. I get to remake their paintings. There are so many discoveries, it answers so many questions. There are some images, I am thinking of Matisse's Red Studio or his Bathers that are almost impossible to draw. I have tried and the drawings seem so didactic, nothing like it. I do not know what that means.
Of course there are times when I do not draw. I just look and try to leave words out of it. Talking about the Guggenheim - being a guard really taught me how to look - the time one needs to do it. After a few hours all knowledge is exhausted and you are left with this thing on the wall.
The relationship between the verbal and visual language is something that I feel that in the end can not be reconciled. Words can be very useful - the way Adrian Stokes writes about Cézanne or Lawrence Gowing on Vermeer - but they are two different things. Theory in the end mediates an experience that should not be mediated. Auerbach in an interview talking about his painting says that ‘one should not demystify that which is inherently mysterious."
PT: Drawing seems not only fundamental to your work as a form of study, but also as a method of painting - you draw with color in your paintings. There's not a lot of massing or "filling in" areas of color. The surfaces are filled with a variety of animating marks.
I have no set ways to make things. I draw, paint and make prints and it fills my days in the studio. I do not see them as isolated activities and they all are part of one another. There is an immediacy in drawing that I really respond to. It always challenges the paintings or the paint. I love paint and I see it as a great building material, like a brick - if you add concrete you can build a wall.
What I am after is to make something that is animated - as in 'animas' or with a soul. I paint and touch the paintings until that happens. Sometimes it is quick and through simple means and other times it takes a long time. I think about the difference between images and paintings - as in fiction and fact. The challenge for my paintings is to become fact - for these imagined constructions feel as real as a mountain.
PT: In your artist statement you state, paradoxically, that you have "no words," and I noticed that when you sent me images you included their sizes to establish scale, but not their titles which I thought was interesting. Am I right to think that your paintings don't really need titles? That they really do exist outside of words for you?
AG: My artist statement is the pictures. Anything I have written in the past only approximated things - it seemed dishonest and distant. So I stopped writing and wrote that I have no words.
The images I sent you were the latest drawings and prints I made. The drawings are untitled. The prints are a suite of etchings titled "Canto General" that I made in conjunction with the paintings. All the paintings in the show are titled after poems from Neruda's book "Canto General" and that is important. These poems have served as a structure - they have a particular tone and I always have been moved by Neruda's poetry. Also, Mikis Theodorakis wrote music to some of them. I have listened to it for years and always wanted my paintings to sound like that. So the titles are descriptive, a description of what one is looking at - like Women of Algiers or The Third of May.
PT: One of the few things you have said about your work is that you want to “paint a picture, a marvelous large picture.” It does seem to me that that’s exactly what you do - your paintings are “pictures” in the sense that they don’t seem to need or want explanation. They are pictures because they don't dictate a message. I can’t think of very many artists who really paint “pictures” in the way I’m trying to describe. What does it mean to you to paint a “picture?”
AG: The first time I heard someone refer to these things on the wall as "pictures" was John Walker at BU. I had always called them paintings. I found it curious and for a while the distinction was just a curiosity. But there is a difference between images made with paint and paintings, or in this case, pictures. The difference between them is not a definition in the dictionary and I will not attempt to clarify it. One of my favorite quotes by Constable speaks of the difference "The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth. In endeavouring to do something better than well, they do what in reality is good for nothing. Fashion always had, & will have, its day — but truth (in all things) only will last, and can only have just claims on posterity." That is what a picture has become in my mind.
A marvelous large picture is what turned me into a painter. El Greco's Burial of Count Orgaz was the one. Standing in front of it I wanted to do that - whatever that was. It seemed complete and I got very emotional. That is what the ambition is - I can't think of many artists who really paint with that ambition.
Eight Painters, organized by Paul Behnke is on view at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, New York from January 4, 2014 - February 1, 2014. The show features paintings by Karen Baumeister, Paul Behnke, Karl Bielik, James Erikson, Matthew Neil Gehring, Dale McNeil, Brooke Moyse, and Julie Torres.
Paul Behnke’s curatorial criteria for the show Eight Painters are compellingly straightforward: “an individual, rigorous vision; a certain ambition without regard for scale or a specific way of making a painting; and an abiding belief in the ability of paint - and specifically, the genre of abstraction - to best communicate the artist’s appetite and inventiveness.”
In other words, the show features painters deeply engaged with the medium of paint. It’s a powerfully simple premise. Eschwing trends and labels, the tools of the art market, Behnke puts the focus where it should be - on the paintings themselves. He generously agreed to discuss the show with Painters’ Table. - Brett Baker
Painters' Table (PT): Your decision not to organize the show around a visual “theme” is uncommon these days - even somewhat radical. Can you expand a bit on how you came to believe that the commitment of each artist to the internal language of their work was the most worthy organizing principle?
Paul Benke (PB): I think as a painter I’ve always felt this.
Recently, the predominant way that paintings have been presented and viewed has been in the context of a curatorial theme. The more in depth statement of the one person exhibit is being pushed aside in favor of a “hook” that I think art spaces feel they need to draw in viewers. These curatorial themes start to seem necessary to make painting feel relevant. To submit a body of work to almost any art space’s open call you must have a “project”, a hook, and it’s even better if your idea involves some sort of play on Relational Esthetics or is community based. All of these approaches have their place but this type of exhibition has become prevalent at the expense of a deeper, more encompassing experience of the painter’s work.
Good painting is as varied and multi-layered as the person who made it. Thoughts, memories, visual associations – the sum of a painter’s daily life - personality and experiences feed into a work. And that’s just the conceptual content. To say nothing of the subtleties or boldness of a paintings formal qualities and the staggering number of decisions that go into realizing a piece. To reduce all of that to a fragment of its intent runs the risk of doing the medium and painter a disservice, especially if the viewer is easily swayed or lazy.
I did what I could to negate this approach in Eight Painters. I intentionally kept the number of exhibiting artists under ten and asked for one piece or a concise grouping of work from each. I wanted something closer in feel to a museum display rather than an over-hung, chaotic presentation. Within those parameters I felt I had the best chance of giving the work, the painter and the viewer the kind of experience they deserved.
PT: The title of your essay for the show catalogue is “The Ability of Paint.” It’s a beautiful thought in and of itself, suggesting painting possesses (and always will) an innate capacity for cultural accomplishment. What accomplishments remain for painting in your opinion?
PB: In a way I resent that painters and the medium are burdened with ideas of cultural accomplishment. It seems we lay this task at painting’s doorstep more so than any other medium or creative endeavor.
That being said, I’m not sure what else painting can accomplish or needs to. I’m not sure any medium will ever be able to change the way we look at the world around us the way paint did in the hands of Seurat, Cezanne, Braque, af Klint, or Pollock.
But paint can still be a means of deep connection between the painter and the viewer in the same way poetry forges a personal connection. It is a way to make the artist’s experience real and compelling, and when this is accomplished in partnership with a kindred audience that’s all the accomplishment that’s required. To do this, today, is more than enough.
PT: You also acknowledge in the essay the acceptance of a certain iconoclasm, a willingness on the part of the artists to make objects that risk obscurity by refusing to cater to a culture defined by technological advance. You even go as far as to suggest that viewers “must be susceptible” to appreciate the “full power and subtleties” of the work.
PB: Yes, painting isn’t for everyone. I see painting, today, as a radical act. And despite what we see, in our corner of the art world in Bushwick at the moment, the type of visual experience that abstract painting provides seems to be less in demand. But this is true with many good and important things. Poetry and Jazz are two. That doesn’t mean that these things aren’t vital or shouldn’t be valued. Of course they should.
Look, painting is difficult and it requires effort of the viewer. It requires work and enough interest and curiosity in what you are looking at to go out of your way and to invest something of yourself.
Luckily, there are viewers out there who are susceptible and open and hungry for the power, subtleties, and connection that abstract paintings offer. And even more importantly, there are many, many artists who are drawn to paint and feel that it best conveys their intention and vision.
PT: Although each artist in the show has been selected for the individuality of their approach, they all make abstract paintings. There is an implicit enthusiasm for abstract painting in your selections. Not everyone would agree that abstract painting merits the popularity it currently enjoys. Holland Cotter, for instance, was disparaging of abstract painting in a recent article, condemning it for the supposed ease with which it can be experienced online - one of the very reasons you champion it in this show.
PB: Holland Cotter is obviously not a painter. And that article makes me question his sensitivity and his ability to effectively write about painting. His view couldn’t be farther from my experience. I’m in daily contact with abstract painters who are deeply committed to their medium and to abstraction. We believe in paint and devote countless hours and money and mental energy to it, often with little or no return. But it gives our lives meaning.
I think critics like Cotter (in this instance) and Saltz (in many) spend too much time and ink bemoaning the vacuity of the art and artists presented in Blue Chip spaces and too little time outside the borough of Manhattan writing about artists and galleries that make and show sincere, good, and genuine work because they have to.
Thankfully, in Brooklyn, painters have been able to count on the support of champions like John Yau (Hyperallergic Weekend), James Panero (The New Criterion), and Michael David (painter and Director of Life on Mars Gallery) and some others.
I think the resurgence of abstract painting reflects dissatisfaction with our machine made, instant gratification culture. There will always be a segment of the population no matter how small that values the hand made and the slow.
Whether abstraction is in or out of favor has nothing to do with my work’s trajectory or the work of the others in Eight Painters. Worrying about trends or what the larger art world and market are doing or valuing is like obsessing about the events of a party that I was not invited to. What people do there has no bearing on my life or the kind of work I make.
Abstract painting is in the blood and luckily, so far, I’ve found no shortage of relatives.
Leon Kossoff: London Landscapes is on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York from November 5 - December 21, 2013.
In a new video produced on the occasion of his exhibition London Landscapes, painter Leon Kossoff discusses his work and approach to painting. The artist remarks that the experience of painting is:
"all about space and movement and light, and every time you look you see something different, you experience some thing different... In the end all the differences amount to a sort of presence. For me it's a process of going on drawing, just going on drawing until something happens, and then you realize that you can start painting... not being able to do it is part of being able to do it..."
Discussing the central importance of observation to his process he adds:
I can't help it, the visual, seeing things turns me on... I go out into the street in the morning and suddenly my mood has changed completely because I see just a few trees."
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David Rhodes: Schwarzwälde at Hionas Gallery, New York, on view from September 8 - October 13, 2013.
David Rhodes’ exhibition Schwarzwälde at Hionas Gallery on the Lower East Side is a potent reminder that paintings are invitations to reflect and, at their best, transcend their own means.
At first glance, Rhodes’ paintings are darkly hermetic. Their minimalist clarity and completeness are forbidding, and the viewer cannot find a point of entry. Indeed, Rhodes’ canvases seem to shout Stella’s dictum “what you see is what you see.” Yet, after a few moments, they suddenly open outward.
Using a severely limited vocabulary - raw canvas, thinly stained black acrylic paint, and carefully taped edges - Rhodes creates an unbounded experience. His paintings are full of nuanced perception and keenly invoke of the legacy of modernism.
Rhodes’ paintings embody minimalism’s factuality, employ the techniques of color field painting, and evoke the existentialism of the New York School. The fractured unity of each composition recalls Cubism. All this Rhodes accomplishes without forgoing image - perceiving a forest, here, is a leap, but not a big one. The paintings’ kinetic effect is similar to that of moving through deeply wooded space - close, dark forms passing in and out of one’s field of focus.
Berlin-based Rhodes doesn’t reference just any forest, however, he chooses der Schwarzwald, the Black Forest. A place of legend, the Black Forest beckons to the intrepid, not the faint of heart. Within, unknown dangers lurk, but also untold treasures; it is a place of realized visions, of magic. Perhaps the most potent reading of Rhodes’ recent work is a symbolist one. In his hands, the language of late modernism does not celebrate a definitive aesthetic; rather, it suggests the possibilities of painting. With minimal means, Rhodes paints a total experience - both the forest and the trees lie in wait for the viewer.
What may well turn out to be the best painting show of the season, See It Loud: Seven Post-War American Painters, opens September 26 at the National Academy Museum in New York. The exhibition features works by Leland Bell, Paul Georges, Peter Heinemann, Albert Kresch, Stanley Lewis, Paul Resika, and Neil Welliver, all painters who pursue(d) an expansive painterly vision in an era defined by increasingly reductive approaches in art. Paul Resika describes their shared ethos: "we used to call it plasticity," he comments, "plastic imagination, that's the only way you can understand painting, without that you're just talking about styles; plasticity is the great quality - movement, nothing flat, nothing dead."
Although these artists have long been heroes to many painters, they have never received the broader critical attention they deserve. As a group (which also included Gabriel Laderman, Louis Finkelstein, and Louisa Matthiasdottir among others), they refused to accept the conclusions of previous generations, each choosing to re-work their way through the whole history of painting. In a video interview for the current show, Resika notes how he took landscape, rather than abstraction, as his starting point. By addressing the issues of painting in his own way, he recalls: "I eventually became a modern painter again."
Three videos below, produced by Ben Tudhope for the show, provide an excellent introduction to the exhibition as well as more in depth features on Paul Resika and Stanley Lewis.
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The Edge and a Little Beyond is on view at SOIL Gallery, Seattle from September 5 through September 28, 2013. The show features paintings by Valerie Brennan, Lorri Ott, Jamie Powell, Susan Scott, Julie Torres, and Maria Walker.
Curated by Julie Alexander, the show "brings together six abstract artists whose work pushes out the edge of the painting, playing with the basic structure of wood supports and stretched canvas... The work, verging on sculpture, clearly comes from a painter's mind. These six artists, through abstraction, both work within and challenge the perimeter of the painting, pushing beyond the boundary and entering the viewer's space. They do it with a personal mark-making that values joy and uncertainty." Alexander agreed to discuss curating the exhibition with Painters' Table. -- Brett Baker
PT: The exhibition installation feels free and loose, “beyond” traditional alignment and presentation. Was that an intentional nod to the theme of the show or an on-the-spot reaction to how the works interacted with one another and with the space?
JA: Both. I knew I wanted to do a modified salon style but as the install progressed it was apparent that some of the work belonged on the edges of the space. It started with Susan Scott’s corner painting titled, Shy Painting. It was one of the first pieces hung. In looking for the right corner, it created a pull across the room that helped form the rest of the installation.
PT: The works all share an affinity for transgressing the traditional rectangular format and an intense engagement with the materiality of painting - the support as well as the paint itself. There is, however, a tremendous variety of touch in these works, the paint is stained, poured, troweled, and brushed. It seems like touch animates the relationships between the works.
JA: That is so true and I’m glad you mention it. In the press release I say that they all engage in “a personal mark-making that values joy and uncertainty.” Beyond wanting to show work that challenged the painting’s edge in a variety of ways, I wanted to show work that I refer to as crude abstraction - work that values personal mark-making, contradiction, and failure. These 6 women, especially Julie Torres and Jamie Powell, also remind me to look for joy.
PT: Each of these works present themselves in three dimensions. Despite the elements of relief in each work, they remain paintings. What, in your opinion, keeps these paintings from becoming sculptures?
JA: That is a complicated question. I could say it is because they each have a painter’s mind which I think is a useful statement since we all paint from our minds (the biology of it, the world view of it). I also think it would be great to try and unpack that thought a bit more; how painting enters “real” space with various transition points. There is the surface of the painting, the edges, the wall, and the “real” space you live and breathe in. These 6 artists each activate the edge and wall in aggressive and aggressively particular ways, bringing the painting into “real” space. But, to remain painters, they each need to be very surface oriented. Lorri Ott, without any support but the pour, creates an object that is clearly about paint and its constructed surface. Maria Walker, very sculptural in Blue Bird, is still very much about paint and surface. Valerie Brennan, who among this group is doing the more traditional rectangle, is a great example of how the edge creates a transition with the surface almost (but not quite) thrust into our “real” space.
PT: As a painter/curator, did the theme of the show come out of concerns in your own work?
JA: The theme for The Edge and a Little Beyond definitely came out of my concerns as a painter. The painting’s edge is where most of my attention eventually goes. If the edge doesn’t work, the painting is dead. It also defines the painting as a three dimensional object in the world and negotiates between the 2 and 3d, the culturalized “magic” place of the 2d painting and the more “real” 3d space of the viewer. I was interested in bringing a group of artist together who explore these transitions in various ways. But the elephant in the room is how the edge contains meaning. The surface may state meaning but the edge holds it. For me, bringing together work that both activates the edge and works within crude abstraction is secretly the start of a discussion on meaning.
Zachary Keeting: Recent Paintings is on view at Giampietro Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut from September 6 – October 5, 2013.
I recently spoke with painter Zachary Keeting over email as he was preparing to install his exhibition at Giampietro Gallery. We discussed his new paintings, in which energetic process and subtle observation collide, generating dynamic, abstract worlds. The resulting works evoke the beauty, emotion, order, and mayhem that lie just below the surface of everyday experience. -- Brett Baker
PT: Visual complexity seems to be a constant your work. Over time, however, it appears the main source of that complexity has changed from the interplay of more discrete, carefully invented forms to forms defined through an increasingly physical painting process.
ZK: I would say a desire for complexity has been a constant. I see the world as an incredibly complex place, a baffling / gorgeous / brutal environment. Over the years, I've increasingly attempted to emulate that richness in the pictures, to participate in it.
When I was younger, I was completely overwhelmed by the variables of painting. I adored Modernism for its bravery, but I was only able to take it on bit-by-bit, incrementally. I took touch right out of the equation. All the surfaces were consistent, so were the edges. Everything was opaque all the time. My starting point was nutty, idiosyncratic design.
I was trying to get a lot into each piece - nervousness, claustrophobia, longing - trying to depict disparate, overlapping ideas simultaneously via razor-sharp accuracy and jigsaw logic. I'm proud of this stuff, but I can't imagine ever making work like this again. The past ten years have been a deliberate attempt to change as a person. Become more porous. Let in greater portions of the world, its flux and struggle, and have the paintings join me for the ride.
PT: In your most recent work, the fluid addition and subtraction of material seems to have reached a fever-pitch. The collateral damage that happens as forms collide with one another seems to play a large role in determining the final image.
ZK: I'm still careful laying out shapes / orchestrating compositions, but the edges and interiors have changed completely. I'm still masking off areas: before to contain color clarity, now to contain mayhem. I'm cordoning off zones to differentiate temperament. I'm much more forgiving of slippage. It has to occur at this point. The pressure is completely different too. I'm punching, scraping, shaking, blotting, pouring, staining. It is, however, the same damn acrylic.
I want crosscurrents, contradiction, anatomical corners, and multi-part harmony. Something limber.
PT: Are these paintings the sum of destructions?
ZK: Strangely enough, and this may sound incredibly corny, but I still think of the images symbolically. I've always attempted to sort through personal experience / human interactions / conversations, by retreating to my room and moving paint around. The picture above (from 2000) is definitely an attempt at orchestrating thoughts and occurrences, mostly inchoate desire, into a satisfying picture. The more recent picture (above, from 2013) may not have the nameable components, but it's broken up in very particular ways, and I hope the resulting image breathes in the same air you and I share. Is it destructive? There is a lot of blotting and erasure going on, a lot of boundaries being transgressed. The kind of thinking up top - blues and pinks partially wiped away - does pour down and contaminate the base. I hope it feels true.
PT: A lot of gestural abstraction relates closely to landscape but your paintings evoke human experiences - intense battles and struggles, either violent or passionate; interactions occurring so close together that only part of what is happening can be perceived.
ZK: I wonder if it's the gestural linear elements that keep these pictures locked in a human scale. I do have a size limit. The biggest paintings I've been making recently are 54 x 54 inches. I sometimes amp it up to 66 x 54 inches if I'm feeling particularly brawny, but I'm not that strong and I need to manhandle them.
PT: This size picture (54 x 54) certainly makes the most of the arm-scale gesture which relates to the body. But, for me, the human scale of the paintings has more to do with the fact that in many of them, massive shapes dominate large areas of the paintings and push smaller, more complex areas of painterly incident out toward the edges. The paintings have very active foreground spaces - and subtly shifting depths of field within these spaces. The resulting image feels very present - the action is right there in front of you.
ZK: I strategize on an easel, figure out where things needs to go, build up wet grounds, then lay the paintings down flat. Stoop to conquer as Helen Frankenthaler used to say. I table the canvases, rock them back and forth like a marble maze.
All of the recent gestural marks were made in an observational manner. I've been sharing a studio with Christopher Joy, and his sculptures are all over the place. They give me a lot to look at. They're embedded with hundreds of tiny decisions, lots of anatomical curves, naturalistic anomalies. They're rich and gnarly. I've been using them as still-life objects, things on which to rest my eyes while my hand cuts loose.
PT: The gestures in your paintings do feel like they are on the cusp of description - they describe but don't name. There is a lot of drawing in these pictures; the linear elements aren't just linear, they are true contours, moving both in-and-out and side-to-side in particular ways. There ends up being a kind of illusionism without the illusion.
ZK: I've made many paintings over the years that were completely invented. From start to finish I looked at the canvas. Some were suggestive of landscape, others hinted at figuration, but everything came straight from my imagination. I remember striving for complexity - for life-like complications - by adding facets, adding colors, adding decisions.
But I'd have to say, keeping your eyes on something else while working through a composition kicks up the complexity quick. Or keeping your eyes closed… have you seen those amazing de Kooning drawings?
PT: Yes, his "eyes closed" drawings are really interesting to consider, because in those works he retains the ability to convey spatial information through his mastery of materials. Even though his sight is literally closed off, the variation of pressure he applies to the charcoal and the relative length of his gestures creates a believable space.
ZK: I let my eyes wander to things inside, things outside. I bring as much specificity as possible to these planar forms and their placement. They're my springboards. I want them to be just as animalistic as the gestures. They receive spills, are troweled, are heavily blotted. These zones are the wet grounds into, and around which, the action takes place. I make several moves a day - sometimes scattered across separate canvases, sometimes all on one. The pictures are built up and torn down incrementally.
For a few years there, I worked exclusively on paper, struggling to incorporate speed into the pictures. In 2010, I started crumpling up tin foil and placing it around the studio. It held a shape, had dazzling hypnotic surfaces if I dropped it in a sunbeam, and was far too complex to draw accurately with a loaded, soppy brush.
There wasn't any content in the foil for me, it was simply a daydream prompt, an eye holder. The piece below was partially triggered by this daydreaming. I wasn't really after naturalistic depiction, but physical release. Bodily freedom.
PT: De Kooning said something similar about the blind drawings, that he had images in his head but closing his eyes allowed for more surprising results - the goal was more freedom.
ZK: I set up fearful situations for myself. I carefully work on large areas of flat pristine color, make sure the shapes and edges are impeccable, build things I'm really attached to, the kind of stuff I don't want to kill… and then, with knots in my chest and with great speed, I bring observational drawing into the mix. Fear of ruin is a motivational force. These set-ups, more often than not, are only partially successful. Only small sections of each calligraphic move possesses any vitality. I conceal those parts that seem routine, cowardly, stylish. So, much of the overlapping is erasure.
PT: A grisaille palette seems to be creeping in in the most recent work, sometimes with some residual color. What prompted the change in palette?
ZK: It was a difficult summer, and things felt grey. Yanking color out of the equation is something I rarely attempt. It seemed risky.
PT: Through your video blog, Gorky's Granddaughter, you've visited the studios of many artists. How has that kind of intense dialogue with so many artists affected your painting? Do you see GG as part of your studio practice, or is it a separate endeavor?
ZK: They're superimposed like the brushstrokes. They bleed and contaminate one another beautifully. If I think about it... and I try not to… Gorky's Granddaughter is an insanely extroverted project. I've never done anything like it in my life. Making paintings is completely private. It's whiplash moving from one to the other.
This gets back to your original question of visual complexity. When visiting studios I never know what to expect. Sure I've seen jpegs online, but artists are always presenting us with new stuff, experiments. And what are the appropriate words to use? It's easy to get all turned around. There's a reaching out, an opening up, a lot of listening. I hadn't anticipated this when we started, but each artist changes me slightly. It's been incredibly nourishing. I try to hold all of this complexity in my head, and in my heart.
These paintings are - in some ways - depictions of that nourishing jumble, the ricochet of my mind, what happens after the talking.
Joanne Freeman: Three Chords is on view at the University of Maine Museum of Art from June 21 - September 21, 2013.
Although Joanne Freeman’s paintings are austere in their means, they nevertheless communicate with vivid clarity. In her recent work, a richness of color, specificity of light, and a languid sense of movement arise naturally from the painting process. As noted by curator George Kinghorn, in his introduction to Freeman's current exhibition Three Chords, the “forms that inhabit these canvases (several of which are elegantly shaped) create dynamic interactions—the hard-edged thickened lines quiver, rotate, stretch and sag.” Freeman and I recently discussed her new work via email. -- Brett Baker
Painters' Table (PT): Looking at your recent paintings, I'm struck by both the reductive formal language in the work and how that language refuses to remain self-referential. The paintings seem to immediately point outside of themselves, if not to specific things, then towards familiar spatial experiences and physical forces. Are these qualities byproducts of the painting process or are you responding to specific visual input, either directly or from memory?
Joanne Freeman (JF): The reductive formal language is my structure. By creating boundaries and limiting choices, I'm able to amplify whatever qualities are represented. I assign a lot of importance to visceral responses and am less interested in content and literal analyzation. I am wary of consciously using too much self-referential language as it seems to show up anyhow, often uninvited, in the studio practice. I'm pretty aware, when I paint, of the historical precedents I'm referencing and the language of modernism, in both two and three dimensional form. I go back and forth borrowing and riffing on it. Specifically, though, a large influence on the language of the recent paintings was inspired by a trip to Otranto, Italy that I took during a residency with the Bau Institute. I was blown away by the shadows and light on the white facades of the buildings. Isolated colors against this backdrop became incredibly intense. The less-is-more quality became really apparent, and I became obsessed with the variations of white and the positioning of color against it.
PT: The specificity of Adriatic light where the darkness of shadows turns to color is certainly evoked in the work, as is the languid movement of shadows in heated air. I think that's when painting gets really interesting, when the language you develop in the studio draws you to a natural equivalent expression. The work itself allows you to see more intensely.
JF: It's an interesting dance between the sights and sensations experienced in the external world and your vision in the studio. One informs the other as you're drawn back and forth between what you're seeing and what you're creating. I remember sitting one night, watching the light go down over the harbor. Some of the fishing boats had a singular small light that sat on top of the mast. As it got darker, all you could make out was the thin line of the mast with a small circle of light atop. The circle was slowly and quietly swaying back and forth. As the sky darkened, the image became more and more isolated and abstracted, until finally it was just a line and a dot. The power of the image came not from it's vibrancy but rather its humble simplicity.
PT: Your description sounds beautiful, and speaks, I think, of a kind of observation that is natural to an abstract painter. Being uniquely attuned to abstraction enhances the appreciation of a complex scene coalescing into its essential elements - you see the "more" contained in the "less."
Another thing that stands out in the current paintings, and your previous work as well, is your investigation of non-rectangular formats. What led you to use shaped supports?
JF: As you have stated, I am also interested in the physical force or presence of a painting. I want my paintings to be read as wholes, where the color, line, and form coalesce. The circular lines in my paintings are made from the sweep of my arm. Their proportions are therefore dictated by my own body proportions. Generally I sweep from one edge of the canvas to the other. Simply put, the exterior shapes of the canvas sometimes mimic and engage with the internal shapes of the paintings, adding to the idea of the painting as an object and questioning notions of two and three dimensional space. I like the duality and absurdity sometimes present when pretty rigid language comes up against a spontaneous gesture.
PT: The supports themselves feel spontaneous and gestural.
JF: I like that, although the supports are measured and planned out beforehand, the curved edges do undermine the right angles. I've been told by viewers that they haven't noticed the odd shape of the canvas right away. I like this ambiguous reading of the form, it pits one’s expectations against what is actually there. The circular canvas, All is not what it seems, suggests a target, minus the actual focal point, with the interior lines reiterating the edge. The supports of the diptych, Three Chords, create an arch with a center support and the interior lines slightly off balance.
PT: It's true, I don't think the shaped canvas was immediately apparent to me either. Even though one knows the painting surface must be planned beforehand, the shape of the supports feel gestural because they seem to respond to the gesture, mark, and shape they contain. This gives the internal forms an added sense of force, as if their presence affected the space around them enough to shape it. Most often in shaped painting it feels the other way around, the marks just bounce against a predetermined area or succumb to it as a kind of mould.
JF: Yes, although I'm interested in the painting as a whole I do not want the interior composition to just repeat the shape of the exterior but rather to remain independent and engage with it. The supports are just one variable on a list of many that influence the paintings. My process, though guided by structure and formal language, is really spontaneous. I work on more than one painting at a time, each informing the other, and begin by laying down a stroke, which then determines the next and so on. I have a vague outline of where I'm going, which quickly dissipates with the first set of marks. After that, I'm really in the moment reacting to the preceding stroke and color. At some point, I begin to see where it's all going and maybe an end point, but usually the bar keeps getting raised on different days with different viewings. Color is the wildcard - as much as you think you know it has a mind of its own, and when you lay it down it can lead you to unexpected places.
PT: Your show is titled Three Chords, which nicely relates the pared down means in your work to the pared down means of a folk singer. The press release offers the example of Bob Dylan. For me, Springsteen's album Nebraska also comes to mind. In these musical examples and in your work, the expressiveness of the whole far exceeds the expected sum of its parts. The title Three Chords, however, also made me think of Hans Hofmann's discussion of visual art in musical terms. In his essay The Search for the Real he writes:
"The relative meaning of two physical facts in an emotionally controlled relation always creates the phenomenon of a third fact of a higher order, just as two musical sounds, heard simultaneously create the phenomenon of a third, fourth, or fifth. The nature of this higher third is non-physical. In a sense it is magic. Each such phenomenon always overshadows the material qualities and the limited meaning of the basic factors from which it has sprung."
JF: I think abstract art lends itself to these comparisons with music. The tendency to read a painting literally does not endear itself to abstract language and sound. Through the title of the show, Three Chords, I am comparing the simple structure of a song to the simple structure of a painting. The quote by Hans Hofmann is a beautiful description of this process. His comparison of two musical sounds heard simultaneously creating a third is a great metaphor of how a painting builds. For me, the higher third or magic he describes is when the painting begins to take control, causing me to become the viewer, leading me into the unknown.
Listening to music as a kid was paramount in forming my early identity. The music that you listened to became code for who you were. It also marked a time when innocence and energy fueled inspiration. My paintings also form my identity. They are my memories, my experiences and my spirit. Hopefully they also share some magic.
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