Saturday, March 19, 2016

(Un)conditional Color @ The Curator Gallery | Chelsea

The thread that connects the four artists in (Un)conditional Color, according to curator Mark Wethli, is that the "use of vibrant uncompromising color is a defining characteristic of their art." At first glance, what is most in evidence are the palette and formal aspects that characterize each artist's work. But there is something more that links the work of these four artists. When I had the opportunity to revisit the exhibit and linger over the work, I found myself acutely aware of the energy and activity embedded in their work, and the many ways in which their use of color enhances our experience of that energy.

Suzanne Laura Kammin's paintings are marked by channels that sweep across the surface, smoothly directing us through open expanses of color. The curved corners of many of these channels allow us to zip around with ease and also serve to connect adjacent areas of color. Kammin's palette allows us moments of rest as we travel around the field.


Suzanne Laura Kammin     Snake Charmer, 2013    oil on panel    16 x 16 inches


Suzanne Laura Kammin     Installation view


The experience changes dramatically when looking at Jason Karolak's paintings, where we move up, down, across, in, and out . . . a bit of a bumpy trip around a manic jungle gym. His intensely hued and somewhat awkward structures hover over fields of deep blacks and magentas, and move us energetically through the space. Shifting bands of color pushing in from the edges add to the intensity of the ride.

Jason Karolak     Untitled (P-1435), 2014    oil on linen    18 x 16 inches

Jason Karolak    Installation view


Brooke Nixon divides her canvases into grids of intensely hued triangles that pulsate across the surface. I was struck by near simultaneous sensations of flatness--looking across the surface at the rhythmic patterns of color, and depth-- experiencing dimensionality as the interlocking triangles coalesced into a continually shifting network of cubes. 


Brooke Nixon     Sailors Take Warning, 2015    acrylic on panel    24 x 24 inches

Brooke Nixon   Installation view


The highly energized paintings of Tom Krumpak are marked by a cacophony of form and color. In several of his smaller works, the many shapes sort themselves into somewhat orderly arrays, but most often his vibrantly colored forms are interlaced across the surface, daring us to engage and enter the fray.

Tom Krumpak     Come Here    acrylic on canvas    72 x 96 inches

Tom Krumpak      Installation view

To see more work from the exhibit, click here.
 
 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ilse D'Hollander @ Sean Kelly

Belgian artist Ilse D'Hollander (1968 - 1997) produced a powerful body of work during the final years of her life, a selection of which is currently on view at Sean Kelly through February 6. The exhibition features 32 paintings and 23 works on paper, most dating from 1994-1996. In her intimately sized canvases and works on paper, D'Hollander transformed elements from the landscape and built world into abstractions, alternating between vigorous visual statements and more tentative, suggestive explorations. The tension present in all of her work captures the viewer's gaze and invites contemplation.
(Photos courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery as noted)



D'Hollander's PAINTINGS, most less than 16 inches in height, are characterized by decisive compositions with visible brushwork. In some paintings, her palette is rich and marked by bold contrasts, while other paintings are far more subdued, both in color and structure. The paintings appear to be thoughtfully considered and bold, yet they also embody elements of uncertainty and mystery. That D'Hollander produced such a range of work over a brief period of time reflects a very personal approach -- one in which each painting suggests a unique and intense experience.

Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on canvas   16 1/8 x 11 13/16 inches  

© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1994/95    oil on canvas   15 3/4 x 13 3/4 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on canvas   23 5/8 x 21 1/4 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on canvas   27 3/16 x 21 7/8 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

The fragile but emphatic lines that appear in some of her canvases suggest acts of great courage. Painted across a completed field, each marks an irrevocable declaration, a statement of being present.

Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on canvas   11 13/16 x 14 9/16 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on canvas   28  x 21 5/8 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York


Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on canvas   18 1/2 x 15 3/4 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York


Unlike the more considered quality of her canvases,  D'Hollander's PAINTINGS ON PAPER (in oil or gouache) are very immediate and energetic. The palette is generally quite saturated, and the compositions absolutely unapologetic. The mark of her hand is evident in the dynamic brushwork in each of these small gems. (See more of D'Hollander's works on paper in my post about a summer 2014 group exhibit at David Zwirner).


Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on paper   6 7/8 x 4 15/16 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    gouache on paper   7 x 5 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    gouache on paper   6 7/8 x 5 1/8 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

D'Hollander's paintings on paper, ranging in size from 7 x 5" to 13 x 9", invite close examination. The wonderful salon-style installation also allows for a lively conversation among these small works.

Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on paper   12 5/8 x 9 1/2 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Ilse D'Hollander     Untitled, 1996    oil on paper   8 1/4 x 5 11/16 inches  
© The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander       Photo: Guy Braeckman       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Installation view of Ilse D'Hollander works on paper at Sean Kelly, New York
     Photo: Jason Wyche, New York       Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York



Click here, for the current exhibit at Sean Kelly.
Click here, to see a complete overview of D'Hollander's work.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Helen O'Leary: Between moments of certainty


HELEN O'LEARY  Short Shift, 2015    Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    17 x 12 x 5"
"Delicate Negotiations" Helen O'Leary at Lesley Heller Workspace (through October 18)
The notion that there are numerous layers of meaning beyond what we initially see is nothing new. Whether it is literature, music, choreography or visual arts, the complexity of our experiences is the very thing that makes the arts so rewarding. The work of Helen O'Leary embodies a multiplicity of meanings and does so with unassuming power. Combining both painting and sculpture, O'Leary's work evidences purposefulness as well as deep emotion, drawing on her life as an artist, as well as her personal narrative.

"I locate my work between the moments of material and emotional certainty..." (Helen O'Leary, Studio Critical interview, September 2012)


At first glance, O'Leary's wall paintings appear to be painted over thin remnants of metal or cardboard that have been folded, partially flattened, and then attached to a support. The edges of the paintings are irregular and ragged, as if cut from something larger, and the surfaces are punctuated here and there by small holes. The matte surfaces are generally painted in a muted palette (although several pieces have a luscious ceramic-like luster). Small sections of the armature are visible on several of these paintings, enlivening the shadows on the wall. There is a quiet completeness to these paintings, and also a sense of mystery. However, the front face of these paintings, with its small valleys, shadows, and perforations, obscures a more complex story.

HELEN O'LEARY  Holdout, 2015    Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    14 x 20 x 5"

Since several paintings rest on pedestals, we can see both the fronts and backs, revealing another part of O'Leary's narrative. She begins by constructing a thin wooden slab as a support for each painting --  gluing and patching together fragments of studio detritus to create an armature. And it is only by seeing the backs of these paintings --  the support --  that we come to understand more of her intentions. Not only does each painting contain a history that incorporates physical remnants from O'Leary's past, she very deliberately shares it with us. 

HELEN O'LEARY  The Measurement of All Things, 2013-15    Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    13 x 10 x 2"

The Measurement of All Things, 2013-15  (detail of back)
 
HELEN O'LEARY  The Business of Kindness, 2014    Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    9.5 x 14 x 2"


The Business of Kindness, 2014    (back view)


For several of the largest pieces, the patched wood surface remains in full view, rather than having  been concealed and smoothed out under a painted surface. Unlike the austerity of the smaller works, here we see the messiness and energy with which O'Leary attacks the making of the work --  the busyness of patched, glued and painted fragments. In these pieces, the emotional pitch has been ratcheted up to a feverish energy.

HELEN O'LEARY  Delicate Negotiations, 2015    Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    68 x 48 x 10"

Delicate Negotiations, 2015   (detail)

Several pieces enter yet another realm -- the patched surfaces are still evident, but are partially obscured by paint. The concealment seems to suggest a quiet desperation to contain the energy of the making.

HELEN O'LEARY  Efficiency of Love, 2015    Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    56 x 43 x 5"

HELEN O'LEARY  A Measurement for Happiness, 2013   Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    19 x 11 x 5.5"

The exhibit also includes several sculptures constructed into wobbly open networks using fragments of wood (more studio history) that have been joined and glued together. They share a sense of urgency and compressed energy that contrast with the calm of the smallest paintings.

HELEN O'LEARY  The Exactitude of Everything, 2013   Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    24 x 20 x 7.5"

HELEN O'LEARY  Quarantine 2 (after Eavan Boland) 2015    Egg tempera, oil emulsion, on constructed wood    110 x 72 x 14"

O'Leary's work is at once serene and meticulously worked, while filled with an insistent energy and edginess. What remains is the inevitability of uncertainty.
 FURTHER READING:
Gorky's Granddaughter interview with Helen O'Leary, September 2015 



Friday, August 7, 2015

Stanley Whitney @ Karma | Step by step


"That’s the way I want to move—step by step by step. My work changes very slowly……    
Taking every step—that’s something I stole from Mondrian."  
Stanley Whitney  (2014 interview with Alteronce Gumby, BOMB's Oral History Project)


The springboard for this post was a recent visit to Karma (in Manhattan's East Village) to see an exhibit of Stanley Whitney's paintings and studies from the 1990s (up through August 16).  In the spacious exhibition area in the back of the gallery are five large paintings lush with Whitney's vibrant palette, but also filled with very energized mark-making that contrasts with the clarity of his current work. In these paintings, the compositional foundation for the work that would follow is already in place. 

 
Stanley Whitney, In Our Songs, 1996     oil on linen,  77 x 103"
Stanley Whitney, The Trials of Misfortune, 1996     oil on linen,  80 x 103"


These large paintings are marvelous to see, but it is the wall of 84 small works in the front area of the gallery that I find particularly captivating.  Hung salon style are 31 oil on canvas studies (roughly 7 x 9.5") and 53 works on paper (either crayon or graphite on paper, various sizes ranging from 9 x 12"  up  to 17 x 20"). 



Installation detail of small works by Stanley Whitney @ Karma

I'd been thinking about the role of small studies (both drawn and painted) in the evolution of my own work, and seeing this wall of Whitney's work served as a prompt to write about it. For visual artists, studies are a way to refine and clarify ideas. Starting with a familiar vocabulary of marks, composition, and palette, and working through endless iterations, studies offer a path towards moving beyond what is already known. Not to be confused with preparatory sketches for larger works, studies are a form of visual brainstorming--done without editing or censorship. Relatively modest in size, they require little preparation and often can be executed fairly rapidly. While some artists use bound sketchbooks for their studies so that the sequence remains intact, others, myself included, often hang them up on the studio walls, always within sight. 

The array of small studies in this exhibit should serve to dispel the notion that creativity is driven by inspiration. Of course--we see things, we go places, we have conversations that may spark us to think in new ways. And Whitney has unequivocally stated in several interviews that a visit to Egypt in the mid-1990s transformed the way he thought about space. But inspiration must be cultivated. We have to ready ourselves to be open to the 'Aha moment'. And that happens through the daily habit of drawing; it happens because of  the willingness to engage with the familiar over and over and over again, moving in small steps, until we can take a leap.


Stanley Whitney in his Cooper Square studio, 1983. Photo by Marina Adams
From this 1983 photo, it is clear that Whitney's studies have been a constant presence in his studio.  Small drawings (whether with paint, graphite, or crayons) are central to his process.   ".... The drawings were very important to me: they were key to figuring out the space. Even now with the paintings, no matter how structured they are, the lucid stuff really belongs to drawing." (2008 interview with John Yau, Brooklyn Rail). 

Whitney's compositional vocabulary has long revolved around subverting the grid.  By the 1990s, he was working with a loosely defined structure that incorporated rows of repeated forms interspersed with often spindly horizontal elements. Unlike the airy and majestic paintings now on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem, executed from 2008 to 2015 and dominated by color, in the works of the 1990s line and gesture vie for attention alongside the color. Whitney's graffiti-like, almost scribbled lines seem ready to burst out of the the irregular orbs and rectangles that parade across the rows. The thin, horizontal bands provide an overall structure to works that are densely packed and appear ready to burst from the edges.

These crayon on paper drawings date from the mid-1990s and are approximately 9 1/2 x 12 inches.

Stanley Whitney, Untitled, crayon on paper

Stanley Whitney, Untitled, crayon on paper

Stanley Whitney, Untitled, crayon on paper

Stanley Whitney, Untitled, crayon on paper


By examining Whitney's studies, you see him explore how the rows communicate, how forms variously open up across a row or elbow tightly together.  You see him grappling with space, color, and with the tension between line and color.  Rapidly executed studies make visible the many permutations that are possible within a given framework and ultimately allow us to leap (or slowly step) to a new place.  The scope of Whitney's studies reveal the diligence and concentration of a mind and hand always at work, continuously exploring and questioning step-by-step, asking why this and not that?

Stanley Whitney, Untitled, 1996, Graphite lead on rice paper, 12.5 x 17"   photo courtesy of Karma

Stanley Whitney, Untitled, 1996, Graphite lead on rice paper, 16.75 x 20"   photo courtesy of Karma

Stanley Whitney, Untitled, 1996, Graphite lead on rice paper, 16.5 x 20.5"   photo courtesy of Karma

Stanley Whitney, Untitled, 1996, Graphite lead on rice paper, 12.5 x 17"   photo courtesy of Karma
The 30 small oil on canvas paintings,  dating from 1991-1994  and approximately 7 x 9.5",  are in some instances more open with the forms afloat within each row, while in others the forms are jam-packed and more spatially confined. In these small paintings, Whitney has focused on color and composition, and there is little evidence of the frenzied mark-making that dominate the graphite and crayon drawings. From the changing placement of the repeated circular forms, he appears to be grappling with the construction of space. As time passes, we see the an occasional rectangular form and a change in how he is defining the space.

STANLEY WHITNEY, Untitled, 1992   oil on canvas    7 x 9.5 inches    photo courtesy of Karma

STANLEY WHITNEY, Untitled, 1993   oil on canvas    7 x 9.5 inches    photo courtesy of Karma
STANLEY WHITNEY, Untitled, 1994   oil on canvas    7 x 9.5 inches    photo courtesy of Karma

STANLEY WHITNEY, Untitled, 1994   oil on canvas    7.125 x 9.5 inches    photo courtesy of Karma

From the 84 studies on exhibit (and I suspect there may have been many more) it is evident that Whitney was well prepared for that 'Aha moment' in Egypt in 1996. 

"And as I said, I always had the color. The color was never an issue. The issue was, how was I going to make the color subject matter. And I didn't really know that this was my big question all those years, but that's what I was asking. I was always working on how to put the color in the right space. So, Egypt was the last piece of the puzzle. Density. I realized that I could just pack the color together."  (2014 interview with Alteronce Gumby, BOMB's Oral History Project)

Karma has just published a book featuring Whitney's work from 1975 to 2015. Click here for more information.

To read the in-depth interview on BOMB, click here.