In his writing, teaching, and powerful abstract works, Hans Hofmann advocated for what he called the dynamic “push and pull” of color, light, and shape as the best means for achieving a sense of space, movement, and emotion in painting. Filled with bold strokes the in some cases join to form larger, irregular blocks of color, Deep Within the Ravine (1965) features a pool of deep blue-black that appears compressed by passages of green and orange around it. Exhibiting Hofmann’s interest in complementary hues (blue / orange and green / red) for their inherent contrast, the painting is part of The Renate Series, a group of nine compositions he created as a tribute to his wife in 1965.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Tomma Abts (German, b 1967) produces her paintings following a strict, self-imposed procedure. For almost twenty years, she has used vertical canvases measuring precisely 48 by 38 centimeters (19 by 15 inches) for her paintings. Rather than begin with a preconceived structure in mind, she allows her abstract compositions to take shape as she works, sometimes over the course of several years. She paints with the support cradled in her arm, not on an easel. As seen here, the surfaces of Abts’ canvases are composed of many layers of paint, with the ghosts of past compositions just barely visible underneath subsequent coats of acrylic and oil. This work’s title, Kobo(1999) is pulled, like all of her titles, from an encyclopedia of German surnames.
Photographed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Completed in 1963, Helen Frankenthaler’s Wizard stands apart from her then contemporary paintings, with its vertical orientation, body-sized scale, and figural allusion in both name and form. One of the last paintings Frankenthaler worked entirely in oil, Wizard should be understood as a crucial experiment in both method and medium, presaging key changes in Frankenthaler’s established approach. The artist’s works of 1962 show the last influences of didactic expressionism, where apparently unguided drips and blots of oil punctuate wide expanses of unprimed canvas, each piece emerging as an autonomous work.
Marcia Hafif (1929 – 2018) made this painting in Italy, where she lived for nearly eight years in the 1960s between college and graduate school. Her works from this period feature certain abstract forms that elude to landscapes, music or the body. For example, she characterized the hill-like curve — which here appears twice and inverted — as “a compact shape, archetypal, referring to the cave, the house, the home, safety, endurance, intensity.” Hafif embraced an open-ended approach to abstraction that was grounded in observing the world, and the nature of painting itself.
Memorial Day weekend is literally a washout here in Manhattan, but I managed to save the day on Saturday by taking a trip to the Whitney Museum to see the Julie Mehretu exhibit, which is just mind blowing! Mehretu is an Ethiopian-born, New York-based abstract painter whose monumental canvases create layered worlds and vortexes of energy that must absolutely be experienced in person to really lose yourself in their surreal presence. Two Thumbs way up on this one. Be sure to follow me on Instagram by clicking on the image above so that you don’t miss out on any of my exciting weekend art adventures!
Robert Reed (1938 – 2014) considered Plum Nellie, Sea Stone (1972) as a landscape. In it, a clearly defined rectangle of exposed canvas draws the viewer’s eye to the middle of the painting. Bold purple strokes of paint jostle at the rectangle’s sides. The work is part of Reed’sPlum Nellie series, which was exhibited in his solo show at the Whitney in 1973. In addition to referencing its color palette, the title recalls the southern expression “plum nelly.” Reed remembered the phrase to near “damn near,” suggesting that his relationship to abstraction is as much about the process of getting there as it is about arriving at a destination.
Since the Chelsea galleries reopened a few months ago, there has not been much on exhibit that has compelled me to leave my house in order to see the art in person. I felt differently, however, when I received an email announcing an exhibit of new paintings from Wilmington, DE-based painter Jennifer Small. As soon as I saw her bold and colorful canvases featuring abstract shapes and patterns, they reminded me of the shaped, sculptural paintings by Beverly Fishman as well as the furniture designs of Shiro Kuramata. It delighted me to imagine what a line of art furniture from the mind of this artist might look like. I wanted to see these paintings in person right away. Sadly, I was informed that the show was viewable online only, but gallerist Robert Berry was kind enough ask Jennifer for a statement about her work exclusively for this post. Sweet.
Detail of Work from Above Photo
“Beauty in Banality is about seeing everyday routine as an opportunity to absorb visual curiosities in situations or places that are often overlooked,” Jennifer explains. “I use abstraction to elevate these glimpses of ordinary environments into bold, engaging compositions that can live in a white cube gallery space but are still approachable and relatable because they are grounded in observations of common things.” It’s nice to know that I am not alone in having taken inspiration from my post-lockdown neighborhood walks.
“The majority of the paintings in Beauty in Banality were made since the Covid-19 lockdown this past year,” she continues. “I was inspired by walking my dog around the block, witnessing caution tape around playgrounds and abandoned soccer fields. My paintings become a visual diary of my movements in a specific time and place.”
Suggestive of the works of Thomas Nozkowski, Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series, and Wendy White, Small’s work often features a major focal point, as well as secondary items, creating visual interest with neutral areas juxtaposed with detailed patterning. Find out more about Jennifer Small, and see all of the fourteen works featured in the Beauty of Banality series, through January 10th 2021, by visiting the Robert Berry Gallery.