October 31, 2013

Four New Drawings

#23, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in. 

I just finished four new drawings based on the overlapping circles from Islamic design. During my last drawing session a couple of months ago, I had two failures; they were pieces that just did not work, though I knew I wanted to revisit their ideas. #23 comes from one of those. I began with a dark red ground and had previously planned to work with opaque shapes on it, but as I worked I found the idea of overlapping transparencies more interesting. At that time, I couldn't shift gears easily, so the drawing was a mess. This time I understood more clearly where I was going so handled the paint more attentively. 

#23 detail

I slowly painted several layers of thin paint on each shape, and where they overlapped was a stronger yellow. Something I changed: I put the point of the "triangle" downward when it had begun up. I liked the feeling of the many ending by balancing on the one.

#24, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in. 

In this group of four, #24 was the most surprising to me. I start with color sketches but sometimes the resulting drawing has a very different quality from the study. Here the two circles have a wacky presence with the vesica piscis shapes within them, as though they are strange insect eyes. They float above the translucent violet ground, mysteriously. These drawings continually end up in places I could not have imagined.

#25, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in. 

When I prepared the papers for this group of drawings, I thought that this ocher-colored ground was too gray and dull and I wasn't sure I would be able to salvage it. I think, though, that the intense blue and dark red work to enliven the yellow; the monumental centrality of the simple shapes helps too. So I think it's okay.

#26, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in. 

Two "V" shapes, one pointing up and one down, the pink opaque and showing through the blue above it. Both are more opaque than the translucent cool green ground so have a strong presence, as though they are symbols. All the images are discovered, or perhaps I should say uncovered, from the overlapping circles beneath: joining points with lines, following curves, to a seemingly endless number of compositions.

October 30, 2013

A Walk in the Woods: Still Green

My lawn is still bright green, not yet faded into its winter drab, but in the woods it is almost all dull browns and grays, the dun of late fall. The brightly colored leaves that fell on the path have lost their color and are now curled and dry. But here and there are bursts of green, rising gleaming, ongoing life amid death. Here is a bouquet of plantain-leaf sedge...

....and here another circle of green amid brown, a grass or a sedge. I love how the green seems more vibrant, and the leaves happily disheveled, in contrast with the surrounding dried leaves.

Some ferns stay green all winter, peaking their color through snow.

The richest greens of the woods now come from mosses, growing on the ground, on wood, on rocks.

A beautiful white rock, probably quartzite, with its covering of glittering moss, looks like a gift hidden on the woodland path.

The plants in the woods that seem happiest right now are the clubmosses, a group of plants that have been classified as "fern allies", like ferns using spores to reproduce. I believe the clubmoss above is running cedar clubmoss; as you can see, it sends out runners above ground.

Here is a beautiful, almost frothy looking clubmoss, looking very perky as it catches the light. Or is it a spike moss, another fern ally?....

....which these plants may be. At their tops you can see the "candles", which contain spores. These small green spires spread across areas of the forest floor, looking like a miniature Christmas tree farm.

These sweeps of green, low growing and vivid, join with the evergreen conifers to remind us that there is life in the seemingly dead earth.

October 28, 2013

John McCracken and Anne Truitt: Minimal Form, Maximal Color

John McCracken, installation view of small sculpture, 1966-1975; materials: lacquer or polyester resin, fiberglass, and plywood.

On my recent trip into NYC I saw two marvelous shows––John McCracken at David Zwirner, and Anne Truitt at Matthew Marks––that seemed in lively conversation with each other. The McCracken show was an overview of work from 1963-2011, the year of his death; the Anne Truitt exhibition was limited to her work from the 1970s. In each show I saw an artist working with the expressive qualities of color using pared down geometric form, and making objects of perfect and simple beauty; not simple in their execution, as the surfaces required painstaking preparation, but in their form. I had never seen McCracken's work before (how had I missed it?) and found myself thrilled by its lush color; the glossy surfaces, instead of being cold and off putting are engaging and sensuous. I especially loved how the works looked in juxtaposition with one another, each shape and color adding interest to the one beside it. The small sculpture displayed in one room absolutely delighted me, a festival of color, and of light, as reflections played over the surfaces. 

John McCracken, Blue Block in Three Parts, 1966; Think Pink, 1967; Theta-Two, 1965; with Nightbird.

I feel that even the larger works gain in relationship to each other as each color asserts itself. The gallery had several framed drawings and notes in which McCracken wrote about his ideas about color. This one from 1965 states:
Radiant, Jewel-like color.
It's color I'm after. Try to visualize these things in color. Clear, marvelous color. This is the vision I've had from a long time ago but keep forgetting.
And from 1966:
I think of color as being the structural material I use to build the forms I am interested in. The fact that in another sense I use plywood, fiberglass and lacquer as structural materials is of less importance. I have found that a certain range of mainly primary and secondary colors and a certain combination of color intensity and transparency and surface finish provide me with the expressive means I want, at least for the present. 

John McCracken, Six Columns, 2006; polyester resin, fiberglass, and plywood in 6 parts; variable sizes, 92-94 in. tall. 

The color black is, in our culture, often associated with death, so this installation of six large columns has something of the funerary monument about it. At the same time, though, the monumentality of the columns is belied by their reflective surfaces which shift in color and shape as one walks around them; their solid structure becomes a palimpsest, with new experiences overlaying earlier ones; a clear shape can seem insubstantial as it reflects white walls.

John McCracken, Minnesota, 1989 and RA, 1991

I really enjoyed photographing the installation of the works, seeing how their colors and shapes created a vivid energy from one to another.

John McCracken, Minnesota and On Stream, 1998

Here is Minnesota seen from a different angle, and how unlike it seems to the view above. It's relationship to two blue pieces changes the quality of the green.

John McCracken, M87, 1988, and Nightbird, 1992, with Green Plank, 1968, and Untitled, 1967

M87 is another black work, having multi-faceted sides that create stepped and changing reflections; it's almost like looking at a moving cubist painting. Its essential verticality contrasts with the long horizontal of Nightbird.

John McCracken, Zephyr, 1992; 9 x 96 x 13 1/2 in.

This work seems so simple, triangles on the ends with a parallelogram in the center, but its shapes create radically different viewing experiences from different angles. I am short, so saw the work at this angle, but if you look at the gallery's photo on its website, the piece seems entirely different. The McCracken show was a succession of perceptual discoveries.

Anne Truitt, installation view with Grant, 1974; Landfall, 1970; and Jaunt, 1977.

Anne Truitt has a similar love of color to McCracken, color that sings clearly from her simple forms, often columnar. Her surfaces have an elegant restraint to them, made of layers of acrylic paint, sanded and smoothed between each layer. Each piece has a solitary poetic presence, very different from the more voluble glossy works of McCracken.

Anne Truitt, Landfall, 1970; acrylic on wood, 73 3/8 x 23 7/8 x 24 in.

The three columns in the show were banded by different colors at their bottom edges, here a very subtle color change to a darker blue and then a blue-green. The band adds weight, and in contrast, the rest of the column rises, full of light.

Anne Truitt, detail of Grant; acrylic on wood, 7 1/2 x 144 x 9 1/2 in. 

The show included two very long floor pieces, Grant a delicate balance of a yellow and a violet.

Anne Truitt, Morning Child, 1973; acrylic on wood, 72 x 12 x 12 in.; with 24 Aug '70; acrylic and graphite on paper, 23 x 29 in. 

The column Morning Child, with its intense blue, has a very different character than Grant. It is a narrow exclamation, a celebration of blueness.

Anne Truitt, Echo, 1973; acrylic on canvas, 48 x 144 in. 

There were several paintings in the show, three of which were large expanses of color, allowing a sinking in to a boundless space. I am showing a detail of Echo because I love the careful color choices of surrounding band and field; the cooler pink band makes the central field that much richer.

Anne Truitt, Arundell XXVII, 1975; acrylic and graphite on canvas, 20 3/4 x 21 1/4 in. 

In her Arundell series, Truitt uses the most minimal of means––a slight shift from one white to another, a light line of graphite––to create a mysterious, meditative space, one that asks for a quiet attentiveness. It was wonderful to see how differently Truitt and McCracken approached their material, in some ways so similar yet yielding emotionally different results, each deeply satisfying.

October 26, 2013

A New Painting: "Curves and Square"

Curves and Square, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 6 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. 

Centered/off center: I was wondering what would happen to a centered object, here the small square, if the curves above it were not centered, instead each moving slightly to the left. Does the painting seem off kilter? or do your eyes keep juggling the elements, wanting them to settle down into a nice, comfortable symmetry? I deliberately drew the curves off center, wanting a bit of movement and enjoying the odd sense of an central opening visually pushed to the right. My other challenge was the color relationships: I tried a few different colors for the rectangle behind the yellow, including blue, but settled on a blue-gray; it sits back spacially and makes the other colors more intense.

Curves and Square, detail

I also had to play with the shadow color and value quite a bit in order for it to look like a shadow and not a line drawing across the orange; I hope it now has enough light within it to read as a shadow. The little square hole had a surprise inside: a triangular shape, barely visible, that draws the eye to look, as though diving in.

October 24, 2013

City Plants

One morning last week when I was in the city, I was early for an appointment in the West Village so looked around for something to keep me busy for 20 minutes or so. I was about to go and poke around in a store when I noticed a tree with the marvelous looking seed pods, which reminded me of the pop beads I used to play with as a child. So out came my camera, and I had fun walking up and down the block photographing plants in their urban setting. After some research, I discovered that the tree is a Japanese Pagoda tree, Sophora japonica.

I enjoyed seeing the relationships between the organic greenery and the geometry of architecture, here with a vine spilling from the confines of an iron fence.

A much more delicate vine draws its lines simply, a curve across a curved-top barred window.

Cool green ivy reaches for a blue-topped post.

Fingers of bamboo(?) dance in front of the geometries of window and wall.

Some leaves seem tropical in their size and color, as these, reaching toward the sidewalk.

An elaborate fence surrounds a small garden with flowers still in bloom, its heavy curves contrasting with the pointed leaves behind.

It's so surprising to see this exotic brilliance on a city street....

....and the flowers emerge from these gorgeous leaves. Small gardens, in their contrast with the built environment around them, can provide as much pleasure as a large country garden. 

Later that day I strolled through Manhattan's magical hanging garden, the High Line, feeling suspended between street and sky.

October 22, 2013

A New Textile: "Lime Green/Black Ground"

Lime Green/Black Ground, hand dyed wool on linen, 11 x 10 in.

In my occasional Figure/Ground series (more of which you can see here) I am trying to compose a piece whose shapes are balanced in importance, so no shape becomes the primary figure but flips back and forth from foreground shape to background. I thought that by using an intense yellow-green, along with the curve pushing in from the right, the black shape wouldn't take over the composition. I'm not sure that the balance works, though, because that black shape is so dominant. It does move forward and back for me, becoming first a deep background space and then a shape in the foreground. 

Lime Green/Black Ground, detail

One way I try to equalize the shapes is by hooking a line of wool around each so that one shape doesn't seem to slide behind the other. I also hook in straight lines, horizontal and vertical, rather than following the shape, in order to prevent an illusion of form. I'm not sure if my choices have achieved my aims, but I suppose that it doesn't really matter, since I like the piece anyway.

October 21, 2013

Suzanne Caporael: Found Color

017 (like the wisdom of Smith, 4), 2012-13; NYT newsprint collage, 7 1/2 x 5 in.

It is such a treat for me to come unexpectedly upon work that I love, by an unfamiliar artist. In the small space at the back of Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe was a room full of small collages by Suzanne Caporael that were stunning in their simplicity of color and shape, their absolute rightness of form. There was some whimsy in the color choices––red polka dots against violets and blue––which is odd when one realizes that all the paper was cut from that most august and serious of newspapers, the New York Times.

023 (like Wednesday), 2012-13; NYT newsprint collage, 7 5/8 x 5 in. 

The works play with geometric abstraction, using beautifully balanced shapes, a little off from regularity; but allusive titles lead the mind away from pure abstraction.

025 (like boxing), 2012-13; NYT newsprint collage, 7 5/8 x 5 7/8 in.

Is "like boxing" the boxes of color one against the other, or aggressive punchy relationships? Actually, for me, I am happy simply looking at the inventive use of color and shape, the way a small rectangle at the upper right shifts the balance and moves my eye across the image, back and forth.

026 (like secret resistance), 2012-13; NYT newsprint collage, 7 5/8 x 5 3/4 in.

I love the curve with the color seemingly hidden behind it. And then I can't help noticing that the date of this newspaper is way back in 2008. Looking at these works makes me realize that I've never really paid careful attention to the Times; I had no idea there was so much color printed in it.

027 (like leaving on Sunday), 2012-13; NYT newsprint collage, 7 x 5 in. 

A beautiful, meandering, swoop of black alongside two subtle colors. (which may not be as subtle as my photo shows; the website photos are quite different in color from mine.)

028 (like calculus), 2012-13; NYT newsprint collage, 7 5/8 x 5 in.

I like the way a small corner is turned over on the white square; that, along with the curving orange, hold their own beside the large black rectangle, with text and color circles shifting the context.

035 (like arson), 2012-13; NYT newsprint collage, 7 5/8 x 5 in.

Almost––but not quite––perfect geometry.

037 (like a fugitive Italian), 2012-13; NYT newsprint collage, 7 3/8 x 5 1/8 in. 

The fact that bits of story and image show through the color prevents a purely formal reading of the collages, but I must admit my pure pleasure in looking at their colors and shapes. These modest works are utterly satisfying; their ordinary materials and small size add power and meaning rather than diminishing it. When I can enter a world newly made, from the stuff of everyday, it is an enlarging experience.

I am sorry to have missed some small paintings by Caporael exhibited in a downstairs space; shame on the gallery personnel not to have pointed them out. Here is one from the gallery website

001 (like patrimony), 2012-13; oil on linen, 12 x 9 in.