August 18, 2010

From Painting to Hooked Rug: Blinky Palermo

Blinky Palermo, 4 Prototypes, 1970, screenprint, 23 5/8 x 23 5/8 inches (each sheet); to read more details go to the MoMA website.

I've been thinking about Blinky Palermo recently: he was one of the artists I cited as inspiration when beginning my ruglet Up Down; his architectural works were at the back of my mind as I began Five Plus Five, my current rug hooking project. Palermo was a German artist who took the name of an American mobster and died, unfortunately, very young. I vividly remember the first time I saw his work, the print suite 4 Prototypes, at a 57th Street gallery in the mid 80s. I was thrilled by the union of minimalism with offbeat humor, evident in the irregular edges of the imperfect geometric forms.

Palermo, Speaker in a low voice II, 1969, Two pieces: piece A, cotton; piece B, cotton on wood; total size ca. 57 1/2 x 84 1/2 x 4 inches

Palermo, Untitled, 1969, Dyed, sewn cotton reinforced with ramee fiber, on stretcher, 78 3/4 x 78 3/4 inches

Some of Palermo's most interesting works are his fabric paintings; using readymade cotton fabrics pushed against the idea of painting as a handmade heroic effort. Speaker in a low voice wittily places what appears to be a painting below draped cloth, making us look again, think again, about what a stretched canvas is. By carefully choosing and balancing colors in stretched cotton, such as Untitled above, he created surprisingly beautiful works. I saw a couple in this series at the Museum of Modern Art in 2008, in a fantastic show called Color Chart. The cloth paintings were strong, lively, and very compelling; who needed paint? I loved them.

Palermo, About "Blue Triangle", Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Color photograph on card, 10 x 12 inches

Another aspect of Palermo's work are his architectural interventions, placing shapes and colors within rooms and hallways, or on the exterior of buildings. The blue triangle is a particularly vivid example of his wall drawings, which transform a space and become a part of it.

Palermo, To the People of New York City, 1976, 40 individual panels, acrylic on aluminum, seen above installed at Dia on 22nd Street, NYC, 1987-88 (read about it at the Dia Foundation website)

With the simplest of means, 3 colors––red, yellow and black--and rectangles of different sizes––Palermo fashioned a visual feast in which your eye goes dancing from one group of paintings to another, colors repeating yet different, as in a musical theme with variations. I saw To the People of New York City installed at Dia Beacon and found it exhilarating; it was a new way to think of painting: as a non-linear narrative, an abstract story encompassing time and space.

ah, Blinky, 2006, hand dyed wool on linen, 9 x 29 inches

To the People of Groton, Vermont, 2007, hand dyed wool on linen,
four pieces: each 8 x 10 inches

The two ruglets above are tributes to Blinky Palermo. In ah, Blinky I am of course referencing his Blue Triangles works, with one of my triangles 'yearning' towards the other, a geometric form not quite right, as in Palermo's 4 Prototypes. With To the People of Groton, Vermont, which is the town I live in, I chose organic shapes and colors that seemed appropriate for the story of a rural Vermont village, a very modest effort of 4 panels. There are many ideas in Palermo's short career, and I'm sure I'll be returning to them again.

*This post is another in a series of homages to contemporary artists who've inspired my hooked rug work; previous posts included salutes to Mary Heilman, Ellsworth Kelly, Kazimir Malevich, Richard Tuttle, and anonymous Tantra artists.


  1. I love "Ah Blinky," and how much guts it takes to make an understated
    shy piece which has monumental and lasting impact. Edges are so important in art! Because I have printed for so many artists in the past I
    have a history in my head of how a few of those talked about edges and
    every time I make a work I hear those voices. When I look at your work,
    Altoon, I know you have considered every aspect of spacial context including how forms fit edge to edge.

  2. Thanks so much, Myrna. I do think of edges, and centers and every part of the surface. Playing with the edge, though, brings a particular satisfaction, as in having a form balance on the edge, or barely touch it. With "ah, Blinky", I worked had to figure out how much space I should have between the triangles for maximum energy.