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a blog of painting, abstraction, and contemporary art
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Merrill Wagner

Merrill Wagner / Large Flower Small Owl / 2006 / Paint on steel / 87.75 x 82.25? / sundharamtagore.com

Merrill Wagner / Large Flower Small Owl / 2006 / Paint on steel / 87.75 x 82.25″ / sundharamtagore.com

I checked out this show this past week. I wasn’t familiar with Merrill Wagner’s work, but I loved how she painted with the steel. It’s interesting, Richard Serra’s work makes you really feel the presence and the weight of the steel, whereas with Merrill’s work I found myself enchanted with the surface, the rust, the marks left by the heat of forging, etc. There was a delicacy and lightness about the steel.

Wagner’s oeuvre explores the possibility of steel and slate as a painterly surface. Wagner begins with found materials, either die-cut scraps of steel, or pieces of slate, and transforms them into abstract landscapes or flowers. She imbues the surface with an unexpected softness yet still maintains an architectural form. Painted directly from nature, her forms allude less overtly to geometry than to a structural topography. Her assemblages are suspended by magnets giving them a floating quality. Her innovative utilization of the dichotomy between the softness of the pigments and her subject and the rigidity of her surface has earned her the acclaim of the art world.

Merrill Wagner @ Sundharam Tagore, 547 West 27th Street, through 10/15

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October 6, 2008   No Comments

cecily brown @ gagosian

Cecily Brown / Untitled (#38) / 2007 / Oil on linen / 12-1/2 x 17 inches (31.8 x 43.2 cm) / www.gagosian.com

Cecily Brown / Untitled (#38) / 2007 / Oil on linen / 12-1/2 x 17 inches (31.8 x 43.2 cm) / www.gagosian.com

A number of people have been asking lately why I haven’t posted anything recently. The answer is that I have been meaning to, but I’ve just been super busy and the blog has gotten the short end. Anyway….

I’ve been down to Gagosian a few times over the last couple of weeks to see the Cecily Brown show. The first time I went I was impressed with the work but something bothered me and I couldn’t figure out what it was. After going back and spending a good amount of time looking at the work and being in the space I realized the problem, the lighting in the gallery kills the drama of the paintings. It is just too bright in the gallery to really enter into the paintings. The drama of her paintings is in the swelling volumes and the internal character of the light she creates. The bright lighting of the gallery illuminates the dark areas, renders visible all the brush strokes, and the reflected light off the white walls of the gallery overwhelms the light areas of the canvas. The overall effect is to flatten the canvas into a collage of energetic brushstrokes with color.

This actually struck me when I was looking at some of the smaller canvases in the show. Looking at these works I could really see the connection to Rubens, Tintoretto, El Greco, both in the compositional structure and the swelling weightless forms hovering and suspended in space. I also began thinking about how those paintings were painted for candlelit cathedrals and castles. How the dim lighting of the space really elevated the drama of the darks and lights, allowing the swelling figures to really explode out of the canvas. When I turned around to look at the larger works in the show, especially the Sam Mere series, I really felt like I was missing something.

I’ve often read Cecily Brown’s work compared to De Kooning’s, and while they both engage in figurative abstraction, I think it will be interesting to examine their approaches over the next few days to see how differently they put paintings together. In the meantime, definitely check out the show.

Cecily Brown @ Gagosian, September 20 – October 25, 2008, 555 West 24th Street

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October 6, 2008   1 Comment

Postcards from Florida

Well, I’m back from vaction and no I was not in Florida…but here are some nice little small format collage pieces to ease back into the swing of things. Fun, airy, playful colors…like lounging on a beach except I am in front of this computer…

Mario Naves / Postcard from Florida #69 / 2007 / acrylic paint and pasted paper / 5 x 6 in / Elizabeth Harris Gallery

Mario Naves / Postcard from Florida #69 / 2007 / acrylic paint and pasted paper / 5 x 6 in / Elizabeth Harris Gallery

Mario Naves, Postcards From Florida @ Elizabeth Harris Gallery, 529 w. 20th St., through 10/4

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September 2, 2008   1 Comment

Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura / Mountain Memoir - Columbine / 12 x 12 inches / gold and mineral pigments on paper / Dillon Gallery
Makoto Fujimura / Mountain Memoir – Columbine / 12 x 12 inches / gold and mineral pigments on paper / Dillon Gallery

I’ve been lazy on my posts lately and I’ll blame it on the holiday and the hot summer weather.  Before I left town for a couple of days last week, I got down to Dillon Gallery and saw a great show of Makoto Fujimura paintings. The work is a visual feast. Shimmering sparkling pigments, gold, platinum and silver leaf create rich decadent colors and surfaces. Looking at these paintings I could really appreciate fine hand-ground pigments. It adds an energy or visual interest that can’t be obtained with tube paint off the shelf. With tube paint the pigment is mechanically ground to such a fine powder and mulled to such an even consistency that you don’t see individual pieces of pigment. These suspensions, especially in oil, acrylic or latex are great for painting flat even coats of paint that read as fields of color.  However, when pigments are hand ground, there is an inconsistency in the sizes of the particles of pigment. There are fine powdery pieces and bigger chunkier flecks. When they are applied to the canvas, they catch and reflect the light differently. It is a subtle difference, but the overall effect on the life of the painting is huge.

In Fujimura’s paintings, the effect is accentuated as the grind of the pigments is very course is some cases and almost has the texture of sand. As you stand in front of a piece and shift your position, the light reflecting off the pigments shimmers and the surface feels alive and moving. Unfortunately, you can’t see this difference in photos on the web :(

Makoto Fujimura @ Dillon Gallery, 555 West 25th St., through August 2nd.

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July 8, 2008   1 Comment

stan gregory

stan gregory / solitary dime / 2007 / oil on tinted gesso on canvas / 64 x 64 inches / sundharam tagore gallery

stan gregory / solitary dime / 2007 / oil on tinted gesso on canvas / 64 x 64 inches / sundharam tagore gallery

I hadn’t been to see any exhibits in about a week or two…Today I went down to Sundharam Tagore Gallery to see the show of Stan Gregory’s work, whose work I’ve been waiting to see for a while now. His paintings are deceptively simple. I found myself drawn into the fluctuating shapes and the interpenetrating spaces. The arabesque lines of the paintings and the dynamic positive and negative shapes call to mind Islamic calligraphy and images of whirling dervishes. The paintings are joyful and both the lines and the colors have a lot of movement and energy. However, and maybe this is just because I am a painter, I found myself drawn past the lines, the shapes and the colors, right up and into the surface. The thick heavy layers of paint smoothed down with a knife and sandpaper to create a soft luminous ground. The contrast with the thin impasto lines. Semi-transparent colors, subtle brush marks next to smooth matte flat areas. Paint mixing around the lines, layers upon layers of paint, giving the feel of smooth heavy fresco. I could go on, but what the surface revealed to me was a painting that took time. It grew and evolved and changed…and will continue to do so as the painting ages and the layers become more transparent.

From the catalogue:

These are the paintings of a sensualist.

Admittedly when looking at Stan Gregory’s work from across the room that might not be the first adjective that springs to mind, though at any distance the standard terminology of styles and “isms” is mostly misleading. The spareness of these paintings will sooner or later suggest the labels “minimal” or “reductive” as well, but only to those whose tolerance for overall abstraction is contingent on bravura effects or atmospheric auras. Gregory doesn’t invite such associations, and they don’t take the attentive viewer much of anywhere except back to the same starting point…

That is what paintings like Gregory’s are all about. Looking once and getting you bearings, looking longer and losing them, looking away and then back and finding a new optical purchase or path, looking at one part and then jumping to the furthest point from it and trying to account for all the transitions and liaisons that map their connection. The best thing about doing this is that there is no “X marks the spot” to these mazes, no predetermined course through them, no one way traffic, no privileged entrance or exit, no inside or outside and no price to pay for perceptual or conceptual pleasure except that of paying attention. These are the works of a rigorous sensibility but also of a generous one, and they are delivered to the viewer in move-in condition without further explanation needed and with no theoretical strings attached. To spurn an offer made with such painterly know-how and conviction would be foolish; to accept it is to yield to that intelligence and that commitment and so make a self-rewarding commitment of one’s own.

Robert Storr – 2008

Stan Gregory @ Sundharam Tagore Gallery, 47 West 27th Street through July 19th

www.stangregory.net 

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June 25, 2008   No Comments

sheetal ghattani

Sheetal Ghattani /Untitled / Watercolour on paper / 36 x 36 inches / Bodhi Art

Sheetal Ghattani /Untitled / Watercolour on paper / 36 x 36 inches / Bodhi Art

What sets Gattani’s works apart are her philosophy and attitude towards painting. Her manipulation of the medium, watercolour on paper is to mediate through colours without them suggesting any referential reality. Encountering her abstractions leaves one puzzled since they are large areas of colour, which defy definition in terms of specificity, for instance, red or mauve. In the delicacy of soft textures lie the subtexts in her canvases, which gradually settle upon one’s sensibility and one begins reading into them, forms that bring forth the character of her otherwise placid works. Her abstractions do not beckon but gently whisper, and once that whisper becomes audible it translates into a communion, wherein one is compelled to respond. In evoking these gentle persuasive responses from the viewer lies the success of her abstract compositions. Sheetal’s process of creation largely conditions the nature and character of her works. She predominantly employs black paper on which she brushes layers of paint washes, completely in communion with her materials and tools. With her contemplative wide stroked gestures, Sheetal builds up layers of paint that in the end leave an impression of her self. And this form of abstraction is clarified by Sheetal, who says, “Abstraction is in its deepest sense, based on realism, as in reality — reality of the present moment, free from any thoughts, memory conditioning. Only that pure present moment exists. So painting is a `time-manifested’ process and I become only a means.”

A silent journey through her most recent show titled Silent Soliquyoy, Bodhi Art, Singapore (2007) may freeze the viewer to one description namely ‘similar.’ Yet her similarity is built into the very idea of difference and this difference is the basis of her ‘magical moments’ and ‘inspirational relationships’. This is where Sheetal strikes at the heart of the matter, reconceptualizing her ‘moments’ according to the quality of light and poetic play with materials through an active imagination that enables her to create similarly different works that offers varying significations

The artist lives and works in Mumbai.

www.bodhiart.in

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June 17, 2008   No Comments

Present Tense

Mary Heilmann / Weave / 1992 / Oil on canvas / 40 1/8 x 30 inches / Spanierman Modern

Mary Heilmann / Weave / 1992 / Oil on canvas / 40 1/8 x 30 inches / Spanierman Modern

Don Christensen / Eastbound / 2008 / Oil-based enamel on wood / 31 x 22 inches / Spanierman Modern

Don Christensen / Eastbound / 2008 / Oil-based enamel on wood / 31 x 22 inches / Spanierman Modern

Chris Martin / Crystal / 2007 / Spanierman Modern

Chris Martin / Crystal / 2007 / Oil and spray paint on canvas / 31 x 26 inches / Spanierman Modern

Present Tense: A group exhibition curated by Don Christensen with Mary Heilmann
Spanierman Modern
June 12 – August 2, 2008

The works were selected on the basis of their ability to produce instant and visceral responses in the viewer, without the necessity of contextualization.  The artists included share a preoccupation with eccentric structures and tend toward the use of unexpected materials and techniques.  Working in the abstract formalist tradition, they seek new vocabulary and materials, redefining their boundaries, even to the degree of leaving the confines of the canvas altogether. Diverse in the methods by which they were created, the works in Present Tense reveal the boundless potential now associated with abstraction and demand our immediate engagement with the objects before us.

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June 17, 2008   No Comments

gerhard richter watercolor

Gerhard Richter / Derwisch 12.3.97 / 1997 / 12.6 cm x 17.9 cm / Watercolour on paper / www.gerhard-richter.com

Gerhard Richter / Derwisch 12.3.97 / 1997 / 12.6 cm x 17.9 cm / Watercolour on paper / www.gerhard-richter.com

I did not know Richter worked with watercolor. The watercolor abstracts are interesting, seem lighter and more playful than his oil abstracts.

The 2001 Retrospective at MOMA displayed how diverse Richter’s paintings are. His early work is of blurred figurative paintings, both with and without colour followed by seductive abstract paintings, with a colour palette that is either brilliant or subdued. His surprisingly diverse range of work has received prolonged discussion from critics, especially due to Richter’s disregard for “traditional” stylistic progression and his use of photographs. [Read more...]

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June 16, 2008   1 Comment

Nihonnga Painting

Norihiko Saito: A Hill in His Heart, 2007, 70 x 165 inches, mineral pigments on screen panels
Norihiko Saito: A Hill in His Heart / 2007 / 70 x 165 inches / mineral pigments on screen panels / © Norihiko Saito. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of the artist and Dillon Gallery

I was able to run down at lunch today to the Dillon Gallery to catch the Ma: New Traditions in Nihonga exhibition before it closes on 4/22. While I can’t speak to the history of Nihonga painting, I thought the work was excellent with both strengths and weaknesses. As a painter when I look at paintings I look at a number of things, first what is the space depicted by the artist, how are they create space in their work, what are they spacial divisions? Is it flat, is it a deep space, perspective, overlapping planes? What are the major shapes and forms and how do they move in space. For the most part the paintings in this exhibition were very flat, relying more on elegant divisions of the surface – positive and negative spaces, contrasts of intense pigments or metal leaf with the airy quiet of the washi paper or silk support – to move the eye and create a sense of mood or drama. At notable exception is Asami Yoshiga’s Invitation Pond, a stunning piece of sumi ink on multiple layers of translucent silk, that moves your eyes into a deep atmospheric space. All of the pieces, use beautiful and luscious pigments that sing and sparkle on the surface and almost appear to be woven in to the silk. It made me lament our over ground tube paints that tend to be more filler than pigment.

The show is a visual treat for the eyes offering a wonderful play of colours, textures, and light. While satisfying my hunger for visual stimulation the works incline toward the decorative and leave weighter issues and ideas aside, but then again there more then plenty of conceptual work to go around. Ma: New Traditions in Nihonga Painting is a fabulous little show not to be missed.

Nihonga is a technique whose roots extend back more than a thousand years. The term, created in the 19th century to distinguish traditional painting methods from Western-influenced art, has often been synonymous with art of the past. Its practitioners incorporate time-honored materials such as silk, rice-paper, ground semi-precious minerals as well as gold and silver leaf into their paintings. Nihonga artists have tended to look to the visual forms and conventions of the past during most of this century. The most recent generation of Nihonga painters, however, has reinvigorated the style in an attempt to change the way the practice is perceived. For a preview click here.

Asami Yoshiga / Invitation Pond / 33 x 47 inches each, 2 pieces / sumi ink on silk
Asami Yoshiga / Invitation Pond / 33 x 47 inches each, 2 pieces / sumi ink on silk / © Courtesy of the artist and Dillon Gallery

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April 17, 2008   No Comments