Tuesday, July 1, 2014

PAINTINGS ON PAPER | Summer group exhibit at David Zwirner

Paintings on Paper. The exhibit title summons up associations of color, gesture, and the immediacy of paint along with the informality of works on paper. The act of painting on paper is personal and intimate. Without the laborious preparation necessary for painting on panels or stretched canvas, and working with the entire field in focus, the painter can execute concentrated and honest investigations. The small size of these paintings demand close examination, and the surface of the various papers provide yet another layer of richness to these explorations.

This splendid exhibit now up at David Zwirner in NYC, includes 48 paintings on paper by 11 artists, most completed in the last six years, but with several pieces dating back to 1949. The artists included in the show span several generations, from Ad Reinhardt and Raoul de Keyser, to  Stanely Whitney and Suzan Frecon, to Ilse D'Hollander and Ben Berlow. (The complete list: Ad Reinhardt, James Bishop, Raoul De Keyser, Mary Heilmann, Suzan Frecon, Stanley Whitney, Al Taylor, Paolo Monteiro, Ilse D'Hollander, Rebecca Morris, and Ben Berlow.) 

RAOUL DE KEYSER, Untitled, 1999, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12.25"

Although for some painters, works on paper may be viewed as studies for larger pieces, these small paintings on paper constitute discrete and fully realized bodies of work for each of these artists.

All of pieces in the exhibition are in the realm of abstraction --  some an investigation of spatial relationships, others referencing structure, while still others incorporate highly personal and ambiguous forms. While gouache is a frequent choice of these artists, there are also works in acrylic, ink, watercolor and oil. The papers on which these pieces are painted range from newsprint and old Indian ledger paper, to highly textured handmade paper and crisp white sheets of Fabriano.

What follows below is a personal tour of the work I found most engaging, rather than a comprehensive walk through the entire exhibit. 

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The exhibit begins with a wall of 7 pieces -- the largest is 8 x 6" --  by Ben Berlow (born in 1980, he is the youngest artist with work in the exhibit.) Executed variously in goauche, caseine, graphite and ink, these offer up a personal take on geometric abstraction and also serve to introduce several threads that run through the exhibit -- intimacy of scale, painterly mark-making, and very personal and introspective investigations.

BEN BERLOW, left to right: Untitled, 2013, casein, house paint and graphite on paper, 8 x 8.5"; Untitled, 2013, collage, graphite, gouache, and ink on paper, 8 x 5.5"; Untitled, 2013, casein and graphite on paper, 7.5 x 8.75"

The north gallery room features work by Al Taylor, Suzan Frecon, Mary Heilmann and Stanley Whitney. On one wall is a group of five pieces from the mid 1980s by Al Taylor ((1948-1999).  His work offers up explorations of spatial relationships with open lattice work painted over broad areas of color. These acrylic on newsprint pieces (image size approximately 12.5" high x 10" wide) are bold and unfussy.


AL TAYLOR, left: [no title], ca. 1984-85, acrylic paint on newsprint, 12.5 x 10.25"; right: [no title], ca. 1984-85, acrylic paint on newsprint, 12.5 x 9.75"

Click here to see some of Taylor's three-dimensional assemblages from found materials as well as additional paintings on paper.

4 watercolors by Suzan Frecon (b. 1941) allow for an entirely different  experience. Each painting is quietly assertive, suggesting a relaxed contemplation of form and color, the slight awkwardness of the shapes in dialogue with the irregularity of the paper's surface and edges. Frecon works on old Indian ledger paper, often somewhat discolored by age, and each sheet is slightly different in size (11.5 x 16.5" at the largest). Rather than seeking 'perfection' of form, Frecon asks us to consider the engagement of the painted forms with the entirety of the paper--noticing where the form meets the edge of the sheet or extends beyond. She often allows the watercolor to puddle, creating subtle variations across the surface and integrating the painted forms into the paper.


SUZAN FRECON, curved and angled terre verte over ochre,  2014, watercolor on single-weight agate-burnished Indian jute paper, 11 3/8 x 15 3/4"

SUZAN FRECON, quadrant/fan compositions, 2, 2014, watercolor on found agate-burnished old Indian rag ledger paper, 9.75 x 12.25"

In stark contrast to the serenity of the paintings by Frecon are works by Mary Heilmann and Stanley Whitney. The two pieces by Mary Heilmann (b. 1940) are black and white acrylic on richly textured paper. The stark geometry of her pieces contrast with the irregular edges of the handmade paper. They are no-nonsense, bold statements, one suggesting vertical movement and the other, a layering of space.

MARY HEILMANN, left: Negative Space One, 2014, Acrylic on handmade paper, 11.5 x 11.5"; right: Negative Space Two, 2014, Acrylic on handmade paper, 12 x 15"

The two elegant pieces by Stanley Whitney (b. 1946), also in black and white, loosely reference the structure of his large, colorful paintings while offering an entirely different investigation. One piece suggests a compression of space across the array, while the other becomes an expansive exhalation. Additionally, the irregular lattice-like grids in these gouache pieces also engage with the pieces by Taylor on the adjacent wall.

STANLEY WHITNEY, Untitled, 2009, Gouache on Fabriano paper, 11 x 11"

STANLEY WHITNEY, Untitled, 2009, Gouache on Fabriano paper, 11 x 15.25"

Two substantial pieces by Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) provide a glimpse of  mark-making that he gradually eliminated from his later monumental, reductivist paintings.

AD REINHARDT, Number 2, 1949-50, gouache, oil and watercolor on paper, 22-1/2 x 31"

The Belgian painter Ilse D'Hollander (1968-1997) is represented with an installation of six confidently executed gouache on paper paintings. While definitively abstract, her palette reflects landscape elements and the compositions reference built structures. Quite small (the largest is 7 x 5"), they invite close examination of her vigorous and fluid brushwork. 


ILSE D'HOLLANDER, Untitled, 1996, gouache on paper, 6-7/8 x 5"

Intrigued by this introduction to her work, my online search revealed a body of larger oil paintings suffused with emotional intensity. Click here to see a selection of her oil paintings and scroll across.  

The work of Raoul de Keyser (1930-2012) brings us into the realm of personal and ambiguous iconography. Four of the five pieces on exhibit include closed ovoid forms that float across the sheet (see De Keyser image at the top of this post). Apologies for all the distracting reflections in the photos, but they were unavoidable.

RAOUL DE KEYSER, Untitled, 2000, pencil and watercolor on paper, 7 1/16 x 4 7/8"
Given my inclination towards structure, I also found the piece below deeply satisfying. 

RAOUL DE KEYSER, Untitled, 1997, Watercolor on paper, 14-1/8 x 8-1/4"

Rebecca Morris (b. 1969) is represented with a diverse group of 5 pieces, several with somewhat formal compositional elements. More substantial in size than many other works in the exhibit, her use of ink and watercolor overlayed an inviting informality to the rigor of the compositions. 

REBECCA MORRIS, Untitled (#292-13), 2013, Ink and watercolor on paper, 20 x 14 3/16"

REBECCA MORRIS, Untitled (#300-13), 2013, Ink and watercolor on paper, 23-15/16 x 17-13/16"

The exhibit includes two recently executed and subtly-hued pieces by James Bishop (b. 1927) that quietly investigate flat space and linear structure, as well as several works by Paolo Monteiro (b. 1961) that depict colorful personal vistas.
JAMES BISHOP, Untitled, 2011, Oil and crayon on paper, 4 x 4-1/2"

PAOLO MONTEIRO, Untitled, 2012, watercolor on paper, 14-15/16 x 10-15/16"

This is just a small sample of the 48 works in this wonderfully satisfying show. Paintings on Paper remains on exhibit through August 15, 2014 at David Zwirner, 537 West 20th Street, New York.

To see the entire image list from the exhibit, click here.


  1. Tamar:
    Wonderful to revisit these works with you!
    A really cohesive exhibit. You succinctly described it all.

  2. I love the talent in this show. The works are very small but thoughtful and intellectual.