Haber writes: "Along the walls run a calendar by the artist known only as the Master of Claude de France. Each of its twelve pages set the month’s labors beneath an architectural lunette, containing the signs of the zodiac. The exhibition centers, though, on that artist’s Book of Hours, also in the museum’s collection, alongside an only slightly larger Prayer Book, from a private collection in Switzerland. One can imagine Claude herself, the first wife of King François I of France, nestling them in her hand and holding them close from day to day... [Claude's miniatures] all have the artist’s soft but intense palette of lilac and rose, tiny brushwork that rarely lingers over outlines, and gentle spirit. Jesus at Gethsemane prays before a tiny chalice on a hill, as if this cup were the best and the worst that he could do. The apostle resting in the foreground looks well fed and comfortable, rather than reflecting a god’s agony in a tormented sleep."
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco blogs about both the "beauty of small paintings," and the particular problems and rewards of working on an intimate scale.
Del Turco writes: "I find that small works are particularly successful when they depict a large space, still life or a figure, rather than something 'life size,' ... a small work is never 'a reduced version' of a large work, the painting process is intrinsically different... Small format is extremely difficult and takes a long time. Little paintings draw the viewer very close and need absolute perfection to pass such a close scrutiny. Small compositional shifts might turn into disasters and 'touch,' the way paint is deposed on the surface, is paramount. Paint doesn't necessarily need to be manipulated with small and controlled strokes, on the contrary it is often a free brushwork that makes these paintings stunning and keeps them clear of the boundaries with miniature."
Chris Miller reviews the exhibition Nicholas Sistler: Incognito at Printworks Gallery, Chicago, on view through October 12, 2013.
Miller writes: "Even in the world of miniature paintings, the work of Nicholas Sistler is rather small. Every piece in his current exhibition measures four inches on a side. There’s no way his paintings are going to enter your world; you’ve got to focus in on his... The artist has moved into a kind of geo-form abstraction where a community of distinct patterns, sometimes more suggested than completed, happily coexist even as they move outward toward the edges to escape their confinement. Isn’t this a fine metaphor for modern, secular, creative urban life?"
Marlene Steele reviews the exhibition Small is Big at Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio, on view through April 5, 2013. The show features paintings by Catherine Kehoe, Tim Kennedy, Ken Kewley, Eve Mansdorf, and EM Saniga.
Steele writes: "Any artist who undertakes the assignment of smaller works realizes immediately that every mark counts in an informational sense. Power is derived as much from what is left out as what is included. The character and design of mark-making as well as the assignment of real estate in a reduced format are all part of the ‘game’. Scale of execution is both intimate and magnified in the small format. Several of these pieces illustrate that the artist chose ‘constructing’ as opposed to rendering while working through the painting process."
Brett Baker, Scarbo, 2009 -2011, oil on canvas, 5 x 4 inches
I want to thank all Painters’ Table readers for making this blog a success over the past two years and also to cordially invite everyone to the opening reception for an exhibition of my paintings at Elizabeth Harris Gallery in New York on Friday, January 4, 2013 from 6 - 8 pm. The exhibition will run through February 2, 2013. A catalogue with an essay by Jennifer Samet will be available from the gallery.
Ken Weathersby, Time Is the Diamond, 2011, wood, linen, acrylic, paper collage, small works on wood shelves, from 2.5 to 8 inches tall (courtesy of the artist)
Expanding the visual field is one of the essential innovations of the New York School. This innovation redefined scale in painting so decisively that subsequent movements including Color Field, Pop, Minimalism, and even installation art all adopted it without question. Yet, while nearly every other aspect of abstract painting has been exhaustively investigated and re-imagined, examples of focusing the field to a small scale have been isolated and few. Miniature abstract paintings are almost non-existent.
My first encounters with Abstract Expressionism’s signature expansiveness, in works by de Kooning and Rothko, made me want to be an abstract painter and convinced me that scale was a crucial component of the language of abstract painting. For a over a decade, I painted almost exclusively on a large scale, until circumstances forced me to radically scale down my work.
I moved from a large studio upstate to a small Manhattan apartment that functioned as both a studio and a home for my family. The change was fortuitous, though, for it opened my eyes to new painting problems. Instead of rehashing the problem of creating an intimate experience from immense scale, I concerned myself with preserving that immensity on an intimate scale. At first, a two foot square painting felt like a postage stamp to me, an impossibly small area. Ten years later, many of my works measure only 4 x 5 inches.
Recently, it’s been a pleasure to discover other painters - Sarah McNulty, Kazimira Rachfal, Dan Roach, Henry Samelson, Altoon Sultan, and Ken Weathersby - equally invested in small, even miniature scale abstraction. Though sharing a similar format, each artist challenges and extends the language of abstract painting in a different way. These painters use scale not as a commentary, but rather to push the boundaries of gestural abstraction, site-specific painting, materials, and process while forging fresh connections with painting’s past.
Caleb De Jong reviews the exhibition Ruth Abrams: Microcosms at Yeshiva University Museum, on view through January 6, 2012.
De Jong writes: "Sometimes measuring only a square inch on either side, these paintings, if such a big word can be used to describe these objects, conger corners of landscapes, moons and mountains. Whereas her larger paintings appear muddled in their intention and of their moment, the smaller paintings on paper achieve what Abrams discusses in her video, ‘The Paradox of the Big’ in which the smaller a paintings becomes the more space and infinitude it can contain."
Valerie Brennan interviews painter Henry Samelson about his work and process.
Samelson notes: "Drawing is important to my painting. But there is reciprocity between them with ideas/influence flowing back and forth. I work on a lot of paintings at the same time with dialogue between them as well. Everything plays off of everything else... Departures happen as a result of accident, frustration, ineptitude, and the difficulty of translating the muscle movements involved in drawing into the act of painting... I always reach a point of anger and disgust in a work which I think is an essential part of my process."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.