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.
The Thirteen Seasons (Heavy on the Winter) #6: Fall, 1994 By Mike Kelley (All Photos By Gail)
Skarstedt’s Chelsea gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of Mike Kelley’s shaped paintings, never before seen as a group. Dating from the early to mid-1990s, this body of work demonstrates Kelley’s return to the medium following a 15-year span of performance, multimedia and installation art. Deconstructing the canon of modernist color and composition, the paintings manifest Kelley’s psychological road map through images recovered from his memory.
Center and Peripheries #2, 1990
A source of Kelley’s rebellion was his formal art training at the University of Michigan, which emphasized the philosophy of Abstract Expressionism. Reflecting on his time at school, Kelley stated: “My education must have been a form of mental abuse, of brainwashing.” Kelley explored “screen memories” in his shaped paintings, delving deep into his unconscious to recover and identify the repressed memories of his trauma.
For The Thirteen Seasons series, Kelley created an oval-shaped painting on wood for each month of the year. Meant to resemble his student work, the paintings come to terms with influences of his art education, focusing on elements of Hans Hofmann’s “push-pull” theory, in addition to typically expressive techniques, such as finger painting. Childlike illustrations, such jack-o-lanterns and cartoon animals, reveal Kelley’s memories, unrestrained by conventional composition.
The final work of the series, The Thirteen Seasons (Heavy on the Winter) #13: Art represents the month that doesn’t appear on the calendar. Kelley employed a wood grain trompe l’oeil technique to the surface, suggesting that the appearance of wood is effectively permanent through painting. Here, Kelley offers a reminder that art belongs to the thirteenth season, of memory, one that is independent of the calendar’s rhythm and preserves its existence throughout time.
Prenatal Mutual Recognition of Betty and Barney Hill, 1995
Kelley revisits his troubled youth in Prenatal Mutual Recognition of Betty and Barney Hill, which was originally exhibited at Metro Pictures in 1995 as part of the Timeless Paintings series. That exhibition presented paintings along with architectural models of Kelley’s schools, the designated sites of his abuse. Echoing The Thirteen Seasons, portraits of a boy and girl float aimlessly above Hofmann-like geometric forms in the irregularly shaped composition.
Untwisted Cross follows a similar pattern of regression to childhood in its coarse sketch of a skull among blocks of color. As a diverse group, Kelley’s shaped paintings draw focus to his unique approach to painting and critically inform the rest of the artist’s oeuvre.
Mike Kelley’s Shaped Paintings will be on Exhibit Through June 25th, 2016, at Skarstedt Gallery, Located at 550 West 21st Street in the Chelsea Gallery District.
One of the most accomplished abstract painters and influential teachers of the 20th century, Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) shaped three generations of artists, both in Europe and the United States. These students included Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Allan Kaprow, and Marisol. As a painter, Hofmann is best remembered for his exhilarating large scale compositions that explore dynamic color and spatial relationships, topics about which he wrote widely read essays.
This work, Veluti in Speculum (1962) is from Hofmann’s so-called Renate series, a group of paintings he made as a tribute to his wife. Executed at the height of his career, they demonstrate the full power and broad a range of Hofmann’s distinctive style, one of the leading examples of painterly abstraction.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.