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