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)

MARK ROTHKO
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.

MARK ROTHKO
MARK ROTHKO
MARK ROTHKO


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

AGNES MARTIN  

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.
 
 

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