With elements of both figuration and abstraction, Walter Price’s paintings shift between everyday realities and invented worlds. Couches and cars float and merge into landscapes as space expands and contracts. Price’s subjects are drawn from his own experiences as well as familiar cultural symbols. The artist’s fluency with color, texture, and form gives physical weight to these liminal, dreamlike spaces. In making each new series of works, Price also sets limits. Sometimes he challenges himself to create a big impact on a small scale; in other paintings, as with The Things That Horse Ourselves for Uncertainty (2018), he reduces his palette to only a few colors. Mixing fragments of memory, recurring signs and symbols, and abstract figures engaged in unclear, ambiguous interactions, the paintings refuse the viewer’s efforts to find a fixed perspective or narrative.
“At the start of the fifties, Uruguayan artist Maria Freire (1917 – 2015) recalled, “I abandoned figuration for the perspective of the imagination, anxious to create a new space.” To develop her own style of abstraction, she initially experimented with sculpture, creating virtual volumes through a single, dynamic line. Complex spatial effects also characterize her abstract paintings, such as this Untitled piece from 1954. Though free of perspective, Freire’s painted interwoven forms seem to recede, even dance, in an ambiguous space in tension with the painting’s flat surface.
The starting point for this lively patterned abstraction was an earlier canvas by Stuart Davis (1892 – 1964) entitled House and Street (1931). Treating each subsequent version as a riff on a jazz theme, Davis moved further and further away from his original composition to establish independent, rhythmic color patterns that retained only a few direct visual cues to the initial design. The Mellow Pad (1945 – 51) refers to the phrase “the mellow pad” — jazz lingo for the “cool” place to be. The pulsating colors and meandering forms seen here effectively mimic the dynamic rhythms of jazz. Davis developed his own style of Synthetic Cubism in which he dissolved figure and ground and referenced popular culture, adding a distinctly American sensibility to his abstractions
Although this abstract composition, Synchromy No. 3 (1917), bears many traces of European Cubism — angular shapes, fragmented forms, and multiple perspectives — it asserts the primacy of color as a key component of space and form. In 1912, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, together with the painter Morgan Russell, coined the term Synchromism to describe abstract compositions primarily concerned with the rhythmic use of color — a phenomenon they likened to a symphony’s use of sound. Synchromism was one of many diverse approaches to abstraction that flourished in the Americas and Europe on the 1910s, radically departing from traditional vocabularies of painting and sculpture
Hilma af Klint (1862 – 1944) was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were among the first abstract art. af Klint often incorporated insights gleaned from color theory in her paintings, while endowing colors with unique symbolic significances. In The Dove(1915), a group that depicts the creation of matter from light, she used a combination that reoccurs in much of her work: blue and yellow. In the artist’s symbolic vocabulary, blue represents the female, and yellow stands for the male. Though the gendering of these colors was was specific to af Klint, that belief that these two colors represent an essential dichotomy likely derived from Johannn Wolfgang von Geothe’sTheory of Colors (1810), a book found in af Klint’s library.
In Goethe’s theory, colors are made by the mixture of flight and shadow, with blue emerging from the darkness and yellow from the dulling of light; green was their harmonious union. Geothe further claimed that colors were associated with human qualities, aligning blue with baseness and gloom, and yellow with goodness. Though af Klint frequently began groups with this color pairing, the works regularly give way to a spectrum of color
Photographed in the Guggenheim Museum as Part of the Exhibit, Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, On View Through April 23rd, 2019.
This Untitled Abstract Painting (circa 1963 or 64) is one of the last paintings made by Eva Hesse before she switched to sculpture. Its deconstructed symbols, figures, and shapes evoke natural forms and bodies without ever being directly identifiable. Delicate brushwork, soft colors and a light, witty touch lend this work a feminine quality that she intended as a rebuke to the masculinity of Minimalist Art. Hess was reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex at this time, and the text led her to question her own fragmented status as artist, woman and wife. Her work, though not overtly political, explores these issues in poetic, expressive abstractions.
Most of the better-known artists of the Geometric Abstraction school of art — such as Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Stella — are men; but that doesn’t mean there were no equally talented women artists working alongside these giants, just because we don’t know about them.
One such artist is the Cuban-American painter Carmen Herrera, who, at 101 years of age, is likely the oldest working professional artist in America. Right now, you can see a collection of Herrera’s work spanning three decades at the Whitney Museum, and it is pretty sweet. Carmen Herrara: Lines of Sight is the first museum exhibition of this groundbreaking artist in New York City in nearly two decades. Focusing on the years 1948 to 1978, the period during which Herrera developed her signature style, the show features more than fifty works, including paintings, three-dimensional works, and works on paper.
Lines of Sight begins with the formative period following World War II, when Herrera lived in Paris and experimented with different modes of abstraction before establishing the visual language that she would explore with great nuance for the succeeding five decades. Many of these works have never been displayed before in a museum.
Blanco Y Verde (White and Green) Installation View
The second section of the show is an unprecedented gathering of works from what Herrera considers her most important series, Blanco y Verde (1959–1971). Nine paintings from this series illustrate the highly innovative way in which Herrera conceptualized her paintings as objects, using the physical structure of the canvas as a compositional tool and integrating the surrounding environment.
With work dating from approximately 1962 to 1978, the final section illuminates Herrera’s continued experimentation with figure/ground relationships and highlights the architectural underpinnings of many of her compositions. This section includes four wooden sculptures — Herrera’s “estructuras”— as well as her brilliant Days of the Week, a series of seven vivid paintings.
For those who can’t make it to New York to see Lines of Sight in person, you can check out a new documentary, The 100 Years Show — which celebrates Herrera’s career chronicles her preparation for the Whitney exhibit — which is currently streaming on Netflix.
Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight will be on Exhibit Through January 9th, 2017, at The Whitney Museum, Located at 99 Gansevoort Street, in Manhattan.