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a blog of painting, abstraction, and contemporary art
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Ingrid Calame / From #258 Drawing (Tracings from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the L.A. River) / 2007 / enamel paint on aluminum / 72 X 120 inches

Ingrid Calame / From #258 Drawing (Tracings from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the L.A. River) / 2007 / enamel paint on aluminum / 72 X 120 inches / James Cohan Gallery

I came across Ingrid’s work yesterday. I am not familiar with her and have never seen her work before. I spent some time looking at her work online trying to engage with the paintings themselves, which of course is impossible online. If nothing but intrigued, I read a bunch of reviews, mostly mixed with critics bemoaning the conceptualism of her work. This made me laugh because I had just read a piece by the poet and writer David Lehman this morning referring to the joke that if you crossed a mafioso and a deconstructionist, what you got was someone who makes you “an offer that you can’t understand.” So I began to think that maybe that’s why I couldn’t really make heads or tails of this work, because the deconstructionist mafioso got crossed with a painter, which is certain to be messy.

Anyway, John Yau, whose writtings I really enjoy, opened a review of Ingrid Calame’s work for the Brooklyn Rail with the following quote from James Hillman, “We sail against the imagination whenever we ask an image for its meaning—requiring that images be translated into concepts.” I thought this was a great thought/observation. He goes on to conclude with the follow:

When you stand close to one of Calame’s visually packed paintings, you are likely to forget that you are looking at a brightly colored copy of stains. It is in the small areas that the juxtapositions of color and layering become visually engaging, and you might get lost in the looking. Standing near to the surface, and narrowing your focus, you don’t see what looks like a big tire track and immediately think speedway. This enables you to overlook, if only briefly, that the painting is made up of literal signs that are meant to remind you of all the little details of everyday life that you failed to notice. After all, there is something contrived and didactic about this equation. With their faint traces of brushstrokes, Calame’s densely crammed surfaces really are something to look at. And spatially, the unpredictable shifts between small and large, near and far, defy any simple reading. The forms begin to float free from their literalness, while the staccato colors and asyndetic transitions bounce you all over the place. Calame ought to aim for more than being mentioned in the same sentence as Pollock, who has seldom been given credit for all the different ways in which he worked.  {Read More…}

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December 3, 2008   No Comments

precipitating the monumental

Emily Warner talks about the monumentality of small abstract paintings in her Brooklyn Rail review of Suitcase Paintings: Small Scale Abstract Expressionism

These works are particular in their details and insistent on the profusion they convey. Concurrent with the drive toward monumentality is a striving for the contracted and claustrophobic, a sort of qualitative smallness. In these pages, John Yau recently alluded to the “density” and “compactness” of Charles Seliger’s work, noting that “our eyes cannot take them in with one glance.” It is an observation one makes again and again with many of the works in Suitcase Paintings. You do not look at them but rather peer into their interiors, picking your way across their fictive and textural forms.

These denser, tighter works invite a focused and expansive gaze, penetrating and loose. If the monumental works assert their presence in our space (making an impact from across the room, or disturbing one’s sense of bodily orientation), these smaller ones pull us eyes first into their space. Of course, the dichotomy is not absolute. Like the Cubist grid that insidiously asserts itself in all-over gesture painting, density has an alarming way of precipitating the monumental, and vice versa. {Read More…}

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November 17, 2008   No Comments

A Haunch of Venison

John Yau writes in The Brooklyn Rail about the recent exhibition Abstract Expressionism: A World Elsewhere:

Any challenge to canonical thinking is worthy of consideration and, in many cases, useful. It can help us see things fresh as well as rescue them from the dusty halls of history. In that regard, Anfam recognizes that the period he focuses on is still contested territory, and he weighs in on it by including work by Sam Francis, Charles Seliger, and Mark Tobey, as well as photographs. I have quibbles with the exhibition, but that is to be expected. Mostly they have to do with who is not included, particularly since Joan Mitchell and Hans Namuth had work in the exhibition, but Norman Bluhm and Rudy Burckhardt did not. But this was Anfam’s exhibition, not mine. And saying that I would have done it differently is hardly surprising.  {Read More…}

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November 13, 2008   No Comments

Thomas Nozkowski @ PaceWildenstein

Thomas Nozkowski / Untitled (8-100) / 2008 / oil on linen on panel / 22 28 inches

Thomas Nozkowski / Untitled (8-100) / 2008 / oil on linen on panel / 22 28 inches / © Thomas Nozkowski. Courtesy of the Artist and Pace Wildenstein Gallery

If you haven’t figured out yet, I am qute enthusiastic about the Thomas Nozkowski show at Pace. I’ve been twice so far and will probably have to head back again before it closes. My first impression was the colors. The glowing lights emitting from these small paintings were fascinating and drew me in, like the sideways pyramid of light beaming out of a television in a dark room (except of course Pace is well light, come to think of it, it would be interesting to see these paintings under different light). They reminded me of the Fra Angelico show at the Met a couple of years ago. Small paintings, radiant colors, small, intimate. They also triggered some memories of Monty Python-like animations, or Yellow Submarine, or the Great Space Coaster that I used to watch back in the 70s and 80s. Each piece struck me as a glimpse into a world, a moment in time, a thought, a memory, a scene, or drama – tightly cropped so I couldn’t see everything in total. A small window.

The shapes and forms, whether pure invention or distillations of something observed, feel alive and moving with an energy across the surface. I wonder if I turn away or blink will it still be the same. Their purpose however, seems to be as vehicles for the color – an excuse for color. The specificity of the shapes feel to me to be of secondary importance to the color. It could just be that I find the color so exciting. On the other it may be that it appears as if the shapes and forms have been drawn in and decisions on their size and position were not questioned, changed, reworked, etc. The colors, however, have been changed. over and over and over. Painted in, wiped down, rearranged, reworked, glazed over, warmed up, cooled off, toned up and toned down. Like a game or a play I just imagine little shapes running around geared up and enjoying all the fun. It’s as if hanging on the gallery wall the shapes are resting. Taking a break. on intermission. or maybe nozkowski’s just hit the pause and is waiting for us to hit play again when we walk in through the door.

As a side note – John Yau, who writes reviews for the Brooklyn Rail, has written an excellent essay for the exhibition catalog in which he speaks to both Nozkowski’s concerns as a painter and his position in relation to contemporary painting and the historical tradition. It’s definitely worth picking up a copy.

Thomas Nozkowski: Recent Work is on view through May 3, 2008 at Pace Wildenstein 534 w 25th Street

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April 17, 2008   1 Comment

Monumental Intimacy

Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled (8-104), 2008, oil on linen on panel, 22 x 28 in. (55.9 cm x 71.1 cm)
Thomas Nozkowski / Untitled (8-104) / 2008 / oil on linen on panel / 22 x 28 in. (55.9 cm x 71.1 cm) / © Thomas Nozkowski. All rights reserved. Courtesy the artist and Pace Wildenstein.

Over thirty years ago, Thomas Nozkowski made a commitment to specific decisions regarding the scale and material of his work. Although he has followed this approach persistently, painting small-scale works on canvasboard or panel for several decades, John Yau contends that Nozkowski is not interested in making “reiterations of past accomplishments. He is determined to remain open and inventive, to understand that each experience, however ordinary and meditated, is unique, and to transform that into an abstract painting.” In an interview earlier this year, Nozkowski remarked about his painting process, “I believe that what I’m doing is actually very close to our normal way of looking at and thinking about the world. We slowly build up a whole web of associations and meanings.” [Read More...]

Until May 3 at PaceWildenstein (534 W. 25th St., between Tenth and Eleventh avenues, 212-929-7000) www.pacewildenstein.com
Until April 14 at Fisher Landau Center for Art (38-27 30th Street, Long Island City, New York 11101 Telephone 718.937.0727) www.flcart.org

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April 10, 2008   No Comments

Stanley Whitney

Stanley Whitney, SunRa, 2006, oil on linen, 40 x 40 in.(cm. 102 x 102), © Stanley Whitney. Courtesy of Stanley Whitney and Esso Gallery
Stanley Whitney / SunRa / 2006 / oil on linen / 40 x 40 in.(cm. 102 x 102) / © Stanley Whitney. Courtesy of Stanley Whitney and Esso Gallery

Thanks to Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes for directing me to Stanley Whitney’s work. Having been inspired by the Color Charts exhibition at MoMA, I’ve been in the studio experimenting with the color exercises of Joseph Albers so I was quite struck with Whitney’s paintings and his use of colors.

John Yau in the Brooklyn Rail has a good review of an exhibition of Whitney’s paintings back in 2006. While he focuses mostly on composition and the rhythmatic effect of the juxtaposition of colors, I am curious to see the surface and how the colors are applied. Are the colors opaque, transparent, layered, mixed, pure, etc. Also, with the Albers exercises, I have been studying the light quality of colors and how the character of the color and the light of the color is changed by juxtapositions. Color is light and color is relative. As Hans Hofmann states, “Color in itself is light. In nature, light creates the color; in the picture, color creates light. Every color shade emanates a very characteristic light–no substitute is possible.” I am interested to see character of the light in Whitney’s paintings. How the colors interact, how each color is changed by its neighbors, and finally how the fit together as a whole the color effect of the whole piece.

Excerpt from John Yau’s review,

Whitney works out of a tradition that includes Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, and Alma Thomas. He is a fiercely independent painter who makes no attempt to charm or impress the viewer, and in that regard is the peer of Bill Jensen and Harriet Korman, self-determined abstract artists who have never been swayed by fashion.[Read more...]

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April 5, 2008   5 Comments

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen / LUOHAN (PERSONA) / 2005-2006 / Oil on linen / 28 x 23 inches
Bill Jensen / LUOHAN (PERSONA) / 2005-2006 / Oil on linen / 28 x 23 inches / © Bill Jensen. Courtesy ofthe artist and Cheim & Read Gallery

I read two reviews of the paintings of Bill Jensen, a painter living here in NYC and an instructor at the New York Studio School, over the past month – Bill Jensen Notes from the Loggia by John Yau in the Brooklyn Rail and Art in Review; Bill Jensen By Martha Schwendener in the NYTimes. InJohn Yau’s review in the Brooklyn Rail of Bill Jensen‘s recent painting exhibit at Danese Gallery here in New York City. He discusses the centrality of drawing to Jensen’s practice and his debt to both Chinese calligraphy and Abstract Expressionism, both important sources of inspiration for my own work. Yau also goes on to state that Jensen is, “…exploring a territory that is connected to very divergent aspects of Abstract Expressionism (Ad Reinhardt, James Brooks and Jackson Pollock)—lightless light, the interplay between order and disorder, and gesture as form. In all three areas of this territory, which abut and overlap, larger chaotic forces emerge as the shaping feature.” For Schwendener this means that, “Bill Jensen has never settled down with one style,” a trait usually frustrating to galleryists and historians.

A frequent topic of conversation in the studio is what we refer to as the two schools of abstract painting – on the one side there are the gestural, expressionist painters and on the other side are the geometrical, color-field, lyrical abstactionists, and minimalists. This leads to a lot of useless conversations about left brain vs. right brain, emotion vs. intellect, expression vs. conceptual, etc., that really have nothing to do with painting, and devolve into figuring out which camp you belong to and sticking to it. However, I am more interested in mining the territory between the two poles and Jensen’s paintings are a great example of the many possibilities available. In his work we see both gestural marks, bimorphic or automatistic shapes, as well as brilliant colors and transparencies, shifting planes and moving spacial relationships. Jensen will lay in a gesture in a rich pure color opaque color and then come back and run a transparent right over top. Or lay in a thick opaque colorful gesture and then while the paint is still wet scrape it to create a film with transparent and opaque areas.

Finally, Schwendener indicates that while Jensen paints in oil he makes his own paint, allowing him to regulate its viscosity. I think this is a particularly important point for painters and something I have tried to bring into my own practice (I’ll talk more about this in the future). The ubiquity of artist supplies has lead to a plethora of easily available tube paints and painting mediums, the quality of which varies from brand to brand. While this frees up the artist from having to spend copious amounts of time and energy grinding pigments, cooking mediums, and making paint, it brings a certain uniformity and homogeneity to color and surface of paintings. Making ones one paint not only allows the artist to control the viscosity but to control pigment content, pigment mixtures, fillers, etc., as well as the drying time, finish and whole lot of other qualities that come into play in the process of painting. Jensen’s work shows us how important mastering the craft of painting really enables us to explore the limitless complexities of painting.

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April 2, 2008   No Comments