Saturday, January 13, 2018

Beyond Black and White @ Westbeth Gallery

In a natural world that is resplendent with color, why do so many artists produce extensive bodies of work limited to a palette of black and white? And why does this work exert such a powerful hold on our gaze?

Over the past year, there have been many exhibits focused on black and white paintings and works on paper. A brief list includes a current exhibition at The National Gallery in London, Monochrome: Painting in Black and White (both abstraction and figurative work from Rembrandt to Richter); a 2017 exhibit at The Tampa Museum of Art titled Alex Katz: Black and White; and an exhibit of exquisite black and white drawings and paintings by Dozier Bell at Danese Corey in New York. I recently posted about a 2017 exhibit at the Curator Gallery in New York, Almost Black and White.
Cris Gianakos (left) and Sharon Brant (right)

2018 begins with yet another exhibit devoted to painting in black and white, Beyond Black and White at Westbeth Gallery in NY.  This is a large group exhibit of black and white abstraction by 38 artists. It includes work that demonstrates a variety of preoccupations  --  paintings that are seductively austere, others that are intricately patterned, and still other paintings that focus on materiality. Curated by Li Trincere and Henry Brown, the exhibit offers a glimpse of the richness that is possible within the parameters of working in black and white. 

Michael Scott

Ken Wade

As I've written previously on this blog  (Almost Black and White, Painting in Black and White), rather than being restrictive, working with black and white can open up a world rich with possibilities for visual artists. Although the phrase 'black and white' sounds direct and clear, there is nothing simple about the decision to work in black and white.

Black isn't merely black, and white isn't just white -- either hue can be cool or warm, flat or expansive. The painted surface may be matte, reflective, chalky, silky smooth or coarsely pitted. For some of these artists, working with black and white will also mean exploring the vast arena of grays. Without the inevitable and often unwanted associations that accompany a more expansive palette, a painter is free to concentrate more fully on preoccupations with form and geometry, pattern and surface. 

This post includes a selection of the 38 paintings on exhibit. The show is up through January 27th at Westbeth Gallery, 55 Bethune Street, New York.  

Ivo Ringe

Karen Schifano

Kim Uchiyama

Mark Williams

Douglas Witmer

Lisa Beck

David Rhodes (left) and Li Trincere (right)

David Seccombe (left), Joan Witek (center), and Jean Wolff (right)

Dan Walsh

Patricia Zarate

Rene Pierre Allain (left) and Henry Brown (right)

Laura Duerwald (left) and Gelah Penn (right)

Melissa Kretschmer

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ALMOST BLACK and WHITE @ The Curator Gallery

Douglas Witmer  /  Laura Duerwald  /  Diane Tate DallasKidd

Installation view with paintings by Douglas Witmer / photo courtesy of The Curator Gallery

For readers familiar with my preoccupation with painting in black and white, it will come as no surprise that I was eager to see this exhibit. As I wrote in a post several years ago, describing a painting (or anything else for that matter) as 'black and white' appears to be straightforward. However, no matter what the context, blacks and whites are complex, varied, and often filled with subtlety. As colors in the toolbox of a visual artist, they can be warm or cool, dense or atmospheric, luminous or flat. While describing a situation as black and white suggests it can be viewed with clarity, what appears to be a black and white painting is often something quite complex. From a distance, the surface of a painting might look smooth and unarticulated, the forms within it sharp and decisive, but closer examination may reveal a painterly history of loose brushwork, blobs and scratches, as well as edges that are anything but declarative.

By shaping this exhibit around paintings that are mostly black and white, it offers an opportunity to consider what is distinctive about the intention and process of each artist, since their work is already linked by palette. This is not to suggest that the reduced palette is of little consequence, but rather that the context of the exhibit opens up additional avenues for looking at their work. It is also worth examining the role that geometry plays in the work of each of these artists as an additional thread connecting the paintings on exhibit.

Installation view with paintings by Diane Tate DallasKidd (left) and Laura Duerwalkd (right) / photo courtesy of The Curator Gallery
The paintings of Witmer exert a quiet, but insistent hold on this viewer. They beckon patiently and provide an opportunity for extended dialogue. Each painting opens up a broad perceptual space for those willing to take the time to engage with it and while generally intimate in size, each painting offers a sense of expansive space. Witmer's materials, limited to black gesso and acrylic on canvas, belie the complexity of the work.
DOUGLAS WITMER  Untitled, 2017 (left) and Untitled, 2017 (right).  black gesso and acrylic on canvas. 10 x 8" each

Witmer's geometry is most often soft-edged, and his compositions spare, lending an aura of possibility, rather than certainty. The tentative geometry along the edges of each painting indicates a preference for suggestion, which seems central to Witmer's intention. While in several paintings Witmer makes a more emphatic statement with his geometry, the thin veils of paint, matte surfaces, and subtle variations across the field express ambiguity, rather than inevitability. 

DOUGLAS WITMER  Winterbrook (six panel set), 2017   black gesso and acrylic on canvas    17x14" each

In a nod to the 'almost' in the exhibit title, one canvas by Witmer most emphatically steps beyond the limits of black and white. Considerably larger than the rest of his paintings in the exhibit When In Doubt, 2015, 48x37", has a commanding presence in the gallery. It combines a more defined geometry with an intensely saturated blue field--a seeming contradiction to the painting's title. Nonetheless, Witmer steps back from that certainty in his handling of the edges of the painting. His paintings are an invitation to wonder, rather than a directive of what to think or see.

DOUGLAS WITMER  When In Doubt, 2015  black gesso and acrylic on canvas   48 x 37"  /  photo courtesy of The Curator Gallery

Duerwald has work from two series on exhibit (all dated 2017)--one boldly geometric and the other more pattern-based. Although not apparent when viewed from a distance, these paintings are actually collaged constructions (incorporating acrylic, graphite, paper, and wax over either canvas or linen). 

Installation view with paintings by LAURA DUERWALD

LAURA DUERWALD  Telemark XXVIII, 2017     graphite, acrylic, paper, wax on canvas over panel   24 x 20"
LAURA DUERWALD  left to right: Telemark XXIV, Telemark XXIII, Telemark XXI, 2017    acrylic, graphite, paper, wax on canvas over panel      each 16 x 12"

In contrast to Witmer's generally unobtrusive presence, Duerwald more directly demands our attention, particularly with the hard-edged geometry of the Telemark series. Her idiosyncratic black forms are balanced by white areas that are peppered with marks. While the geometry in these paintings is unequivocal, the edges of each form are nuanced and somewhat irregular, and the black fields are filled with subtle atmosphere. Duerwald balances the seeming certainty of her geometry with the ambiguity of her mark-making. 

Duerwald's Template paintings appear to loosely reference printed textiles. A wedge-like mark is repeated and varies in density as it moves across the surface. Closer examination reveals that these paintings have been painstakingly constructed through a repetitive process of painting and tearing numerous scraps of paper, and then affixing them to the canvas in gently undulating rows. Unlike the defined geometry of the Telemark paintings, these paintings have a more tentative, suggestive quality to them, despite the black and white palette.

LAURA DUERWALD  Template (Too Soon To Say Goodbye), 2017    acrylic, graphite, paper, wax on linen   42 x 60"

   LAURA DUERWALD   Detail from a Template painting

DallasKidd employs a systematic approach to her investigation of form and planes. Many of the works on exhibit depict the spatial effects of folding and flattening a rectangular, two-dimensional form. The paintings create the illusion of space as each folded and flattened sheet floats within a spare field, at times anchored along the painting's edge, but often disengaged from the edges. In an array of 9 small (8 x 10") paintings titled "Coming Undone", she offers many different manifestations of that exploration. While Duerwald's paintings are collaged constructions, DallasKidd creates illusion of collage by painting hard-edged, richly textured planes. 

DIANE TATE DALLASKIDD   Page 1, 2017   acrylic on wood panel    24 x 18"   /   photo courtesy of The Curator Gallery

DIANE TATE DALLASKIDD  Coming Undone No. 5, 2017   acrylic on wood panel   8x10"   /   photo courtesy of The Curator Gallery

DIANE TATE DALLASKIDD  Coming Undone No. 6, 2017   acrylic on wood panel   8x10"   /   photo courtesy of The Curator Gallery

Almost Black and White   /  through October 28  / The Curator Gallery   /  520 West 23rd St. NYC

Monday, December 12, 2016

The power of art to transcend despair

MARK ROTHKO   (currently on exhibit at Pace Gallery)

I write in an effort to escape, if only for a short while, the intense agitation and despair that have engulfed me for most of the past year. I have no desire to dwell on the circumstances that brought us here, for that would provide no relief whatsoever. I know that for my emotional and spiritual sanity, I must regain some balance in my life. I cannot let my fears about the future of our country and the world overpower everything that makes life meaningful for me. At the same time, I fully recognize that our lives as Americans have been forever changed and that I cannot retreat from my engagement with the world.

It is through the arts, as well as the natural world, that I find solace, beauty, joy, humor, sadness, and brilliance. They have the power to surprise and provoke me. They remind me of what is good in the world. 

Three current exhibits (all on view in New York through early January) have exerted a powerful hold on my emotions and remain very present in my thoughts. I don't presume to have any significant insights into the work of these three artists. I can only describe what I experience when in the presence of the work.

Apologies for the limited information in the captions. For the Rothko exhibit, the gallery did not make complete information about the paintings available to the public. For the works by Herrera and Martin, it is my own sloppiness in not having kept track of the information.

MARK ROTHKO:  Dark Palette @ Pace (through January 7, 2017)

Given my sense of despair, it might seem odd that this exhibit of darkly-hued paintings would lift the gloom from off my shoulders. But that is precisely what happened as soon as I was surrounded by Rothko's paintings. Rather than imparting a feeling of melancholy, I found most of the paintings rich with quiet intensity that produced a feeling of serenity. The sense of space in each painting is vast and continually shifting--but their instability is somehow comforting. Each painting hovers between certainty and mutability, the edges of the color fields defined, yet undefined. In one painting the vibrant glow along the edges of a field is filled with drama, while in another painting, the edges nearly disappear. My experience with these paintings was one of wonder and tranquility. 

For more information about the Rothko exhibit, click here.


CARMEN HERRERA:  Lines of Sight @ Whitney Museum (through January 9, 2017)

CARMEN HERRERA   Paintings from the series Days of the Week

In contrast with the introspective experience of the Rothko exhibit, Herrera's bold geometric abstractions brought me feelings of of joyful vitality. The exhibit focuses on just a thirty-year span, 1948-1978, in Herrera's very long life (she continues to paint at the age of 101!)  

A wonderful suite of seven paintings from the late 1970s, Days of the Week, is installed on a long wall opposite the elevators. In keeping with Herrera's tendency to limit her palette, each of the paintings in this series is executed in black plus one other color. The offer up exuberance and clarity. I was also drawn to the very elegant Blanco y Verde paintings from the 1960s. This work is defined by a pared down, asymmetrical geometry and limited to green and white elements, which continually shift between figure and ground. In another room is a large group of Herrera's Estructuras--painted would sculptures, some mounted on the walls and others free-standing on the floor. The formal elements of these constructions sometimes parallel the geometry of her paintings, but here the interplay is between figure and empty space, rather than the figure / ground of the paintings. 

For more information about the Herrera exhibit, click here.
For an article about the Herrera exhibit, click here.

CARMEN HERRERA   Painting from the Blanco y Verde series

CARMEN HERRERA   Painting from the Blanco y Verde series

CARMEN HERRERA   From the Estructuras series

CARMEN HERRERA   Work on paper

AGNES MARTIN  @  Guggenheim Museum (through January 11, 2017) 

AGNES MARTIN   from a 1980s series titled Grey Paintings

Since I am unlikely to offer any meaningful insights that would add to the discussion of Martin's work, I'll limit my comments to how I experience her work. As of this writing, I've visited this majestic and comprehensive exhibit three times and have only started to digest what I've seen. 

N.B. The narrow black bands along the edges of some paintings are the frames and not part of the paintings.  

What is immediately apparent is Martin's doggedness in pursuit of, step by minute step, the seemingly limitless variations that were possible within each 'theme' that captured her interest. Her repeated experimentation -- with infinitesimal shifts in palette, compositional structure, and mark making -- makes her paintings and drawings an endless source of pleasure for slow-lookers like me. The more time I spend with each work, the more I see. But I'm never certain if what I see is in the paint or is my perception of the paint --  pale, pale tints of colors appear and disappear, a very diffused light seems to gently move across the surface.

Another element of her work that grabs me by the gut is its tenderness -- when you move in quite close you can see the frailty of her pencil lines and the irregularity along the edges of her color bands. The mark of her hand is always present. What may appear to be a rigidly painted grid or a precisely drawn series of lines when viewed from a distance is transformed upon close examination. While the overall composition of Martin's mature work is generally quite restrained, the fields are filled with variegated grounds and stains. Clearly, the compositional framework suggests order, but the execution of each work suggests deep emotion. 
For more information about the Agnes Martin exhibit at the Guggenheim, click here.
For more information about Agnes Martin Grey Paintings, click here.
AGNES MARTIN   White Flower, 1960  (from the Guggenheim Museum website)

AGNES MARTIN   The Sea, 2003

AGNES MARTIN   Detail from I love the whole world, 1999

AGNES MARTIN   Detail from White Flower, 1960   (the color cast may be incorrect)

AGNES MARTIN   Untitled, 2004


If looking at the paintings in this post has given you some comfort in this difficult time, then I have done some good.  If this post sends you off to see the exhibits for the first time, or the fifth time, even better. If looking at these paintings gives you the courage to engage in the difficult work that lies ahead of us, I look forward to joining you in the streets.

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.