Sunday, December 2, 2012

hybrids and homilies

detail: Forest Creature #1, 2012, graphite, oil on Yupo paper, 26 x 20 in

Glenn Horowitz Bookseller

It's not often that I'm taken by surprise. It's not that I can't be impressed -- lots of things impress me. But true surprise is different. Picasso's Mosqueteros at Gagosian, 2009 -- that surprised me. New Zealand's Marmite shortage -- big surprise. An art fair in Atlantic, somewhere between surprise and fatigue. Not that surprise in and of itself is key to art making -- not by a long shot. But after a long time of looking and thinking about art, being truly surprised is a little like falling in love. 

Enter Lucy Winton -- surprise, surprise, surprise.

Donkey Bull #2 (Love to Edwin Landseer), 2012, charcoal, graphite, airbrush, oil on vellum, 37 x 25 in

Now on view at Glenn Horowitz, Lucy Winton: Creatures, a small group of paintings on paper that are seductive, sentimental, cheeky and fresh. This is the real thing -- a must see.

Forest Creature #1, 2012, graphite, oil on Yupo paper, 26 x 20 in

Lucy Winton seems to do most of her thinking at the cusp of imagination, commingling the romance of animal consciousness with her own psyche, and there she pulls out quite a plum. Diving into the rabbit hole without a hint of irony, Winton dabbles in the unheimlich (Ger., uncanny) and in social taboos, absurdism and territories unknown from the past, future and present tenses.

Her paintings are intimate and luxurious, moody and gothic, and they bring to mind the likes of Poe, Lewis Carroll and Flannery O'Connor. For the artist, whose influences run the gamut from children's literature to Edwin Landseer and Jorg Immendorf, there is a special power in the creatures, places and things that populate her world, a parallel universe of visual non sequiturs filled with rich metaphors and a sweeping and poetic mindfulness. 

After War, Snow, 2011, charcoal, graphite, oil on vellum, 25 x 37 in

In After War, Snow, the artist snuggles with doe-eyed cattle that lounge among her fleshy brushwork and velvet fields of gray. Little mountains of snow fall on this softness like errant globs from another world, laying across the composition with little regard for reality. Her paint application here is subdued, evoking the Spartan curves and naturalism of Georgia O'Keefe.
And then -- without warning -- Winton fiercely effects a sort of painterly dismount in which she suddenly channels the hand of Frans Hals or John Singer Sargent and their swashbuckling strokes of pigment. She swirls over broad expanses, canoodling with her brushes among fleeing rabbits and bursting star shapes, tree trunks and stairways. 

Gliding her brush across swaths of Yupo paper, Winton advances into breathtaking passages of pure paint. Her brushwork is frisky and deliciously wicked, as if there's alchemy in each stroke. If you know the feel of a paint-saturated brush, you're right there with her -- skating across the icy translucence of this waxy white geography. 

Recently, Lucy Winton and I exchanged a few thoughts on content, context and the chimerical in her paintings:
Are there specific references to the snow in your work?

My snow is definitely a reference to Jorg Immendorf's Cafe Deutschland, The Wizard of Oz snowfall scene, and the calming -- even opiate -- feeling I get from that. I also grew up in very snowy Minnesota.

installation view with sculpture, L, Androclea and the Lion, 2012, papier mache, balsa wood, oil, 12 x 12 in, variable

There seem to be elements of Shamanism in your work, and a sort of luxurious communion with animal spirits.

I fantasize about communing with unreachable when I paint me sneaking up on a deer or lion, I really get pleasure. That pleasure is spiritual."

Farm Whorl, 2012, graphite, charcoal, oil on vellum

Lurking within these dramas, it also seems there are the things of social taboos, repressed memory, dreams and the uncanny, or unheimlich, experiences, whether actual or intuited.

In Freud's 1919 landmark essay, The Uncanny, he talks about the uncanny experience as:  

"...that class of the frightening which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar."
Winton's examination of the unheimlich is far less dark than Freud's, but the idea of a parallel universe where the unfamiliar is familiar again, is an irresistible connection.

But, I digress. Winton's images and the animal consciousness they evoke are spectacularly weird and wonderful. At the same time, they seem to come from our shared childhoods or deep inside some collective unconscious.

I lived in India for about six months a long time ago. I have definitely referenced one Brahman cow eye about 6 times -- same darn eye over and over.

Donkey Bull Parachutes #1, 2011, graphite, charcoal, airbrush on vellum

Your works seem to have a floating narrative that is familiar but fleeting. Are you inspired by specific works of literature?

Mostly I am inspired by children's book illustrations -- sometimes regardless of the narrative. One weird personality marker I have is that I am inappropriately religious, indecisively so...and from an atheist, humanist background. That can leak out in my work.

Forest Creature #3, 2012, graphite, oil on Yupo paper, 26 x 20 in

The idea that (on top of everything else) part of Lucy Winton's visual psychology is driven by wanton religiosity -- makes me like the work even more. 

other creatures is one of Winton's great creative strengths."

April Gornick, BOMB, Summer, 2012

Don't miss this beautiful show, on view at Glenn Horowitz through January 1.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

bird notes

8:30am 12:45pm 11/16/90, 1990, ink on paper, 22 1/2 x 22 1/4 in

Billy Sullivan: Bird Drawings
Glenn Horowitz Bookseller

Since the early 1990s, artist Billy Sullivan has been drawing the birds that frequent his East Hampton backyard. Currently on view at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, also in East Hampton, are selected drawings from over three decades of Sullivan's nuanced line, keen observation and his quick and fluent hand. 

detail: 6/22/99, 6:16am 7:09am, 1999, ink on paper, 30 x 22 in

I focus on the birds, their activities, movements and rhythms. Watching 
them, you can see that dominance doesn't matter.

Sullivan's mellifluous lines and inky swashes of brush reveal more than the empirical -- they are meditations on being and birdness, flight and stasis and persona, disposition and anima. 

His imagery moves across the page quickly, multiplying with all the briskness of flocks of birds in flight. The drawings are fleeting and minimal, and yet their conveyance of the nature of all things bird is really quite astonishing.

8/6/97 11:45am 12:25pm, 1997, ink on Arches paper, 30 x 22 in

Gallery director Jess Frost sat down with me last week to share some thoughts on the exhibit, which features works dating from 1990 to three drawings completed the weekend before the show opened. 

"The way the birds move around the page, they're almost musical," said Frost. Indeed, Sullivan's methodology requires him to apprehend the birds almost instantaneously.

You want the marks to be as fast as the birds.

4/6/03 2:15pm 2:40pm, 2003, Ink on paper, 30 x 22 in

"Some of them are like field drawings," Frost continued, "they're all done from life. Billy sits at his dining room table in front of a picture window. All the works are titled by date and time, so you can tell that certain birds arrive seasonally."

I'm excited every spring when I hear orioles before I can see them. I love seeing hummingbirds arrive in the spring, but I miss hearing 
bobwhites -- they're just not around anymore. 

detail: 11/4/12 8:35am-9:44am 10:58am-11:57am 12:03am-1:20pm , 2012, ink on paper, 26 x 120 in

This body of work, you might say, is in direct opposition to Sullivan's acclaimed figurative paintings, which are drawn from his own photography and photographic archives. The paintings are diaristic, crisp and sexy, transforming the humble snapshot into poetic characterizations that depict the life and times of Sullivan, his famed cadre and the people and things in his orbit.
In his photography, a renown body of work in its own right, Sullivan has chronicled some 45 years of art world shenanigans that he experienced firsthand, beginning with those halcyon days at Max's Kansas City beginning in the late 1960s. Lauded for the incisive photographic installation he mounted in Day for Night: The 2006 Whitney Biennial, Sullivan's body of photographic works bounce from sun drenched beach parties to matter-of-fact nudes and the clubs, cocktails and camp of the 1970s and 80s.

Like the bird drawings, the imagery contained within his portraits and still lifes reveals as much about the artist as it does his subjects.


The birds dictate who's in the drawing. Birds have schedules. A cardinal 
always comes at meal times.


IX 2/9/93 1:55 2:08pm, 1993, Ink on paper, 10 x 14 in

Mourning doves have returned this year, they had been absent for 
a while. Now there are turkeys around and downy woodpeckers
at the feeder and also pecking on the side of my house.

Sullivan's hand is smart and honest, without a touch of cynicism. An inventive and buoyant colorist, the bird drawings -- devoid of color -- reveal that gentle bullfighter within the artist.


Accompanying the exhibition a limited edition book, BIRDS, with text by author, birder and conservationist, the famed Margaret Atwood and Sullivan's drawings.

BIRDS is available for purchase through Glenn Horowitz Bookseller

On the evolution of both the exhibit and the book, Frost recalled her delight when the famed author agreed to include her 2010 essay on bird conservation, originally published in The Guardian, in the book. 

Billy Sullivan: Bird Drawings is on view through January 1, 2013.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

ex nihilo: red black and white

detail: NSIBTW-22,2012, oil on canvas 36 x 36 inches

Eric Dever
at Sara Nightingale 

After a lengthy exile from the maddening seductions of color, the artist Eric Dever spent the past year rediscovering the color red. Not just any red, but the very particular iteration Napthol Scarlet, and the uncountable derivations possible in it when combined with white (Titanium) and black (Ivory). The results, a suite of pulsing, contemplative, hypnotic paintings by Dever are on view at Sara Nightingale Gallery through November 21. This is an electrifying show that you won't want to miss.

installation: S. Ram RED WHITE AND BLACK PAINTINGS, 2012

Elemental and exacting, Dever's paintings make you feel like he invented color. Crisp blacks fold into gray and white, and reds yield to coral, salmon and fleshy pinks that seem to have risen from coal fields. Brilliant blushes radiate out of expanses of burlap, linen or cotton canvas with geometric precision. His palette, modulated variations in red, black and white, reveals incredible diversity, and his arsenal of structural idioms -- chiefly circles, right angles and bars of color -- expand outward as if in a constant state of reinvention. 

We sat down at the gallery recently to share some thoughts on color theory, red wine, yoga and a dash of French semiotics, courtesy Roland Barthes:

     "Last year I exhibited a suite of grayscale paintings in Paris, finalizing five years of work with black and white paint exclusively."

NSIBTW-9, 2012, oil on burlap, 26 x 36 inch

After the Paris show, Dever traveled to Languedoc in the south of France, the place of his ancestry. The area, known for its savage past, was an outpost of the Cathars, a resolute religious sect that dared to defy the Catholic church to their own considerable peril. 

The medieval bloodshed that haunts the region brought Roland Barthes' famed Wine and Milk essay to Dever's mind, and a body of new work was born. 

Alchemy, transmutation, wine and blood -- an "aha" moment for the artist. Barthes' commentary on the heredity of the color red and its permutations, both cultural and ideological, provided a powerful gateway for Dever.

"It was time to introduce a color into my practice."

Dever works methodically, applying paint with a spackle knife. Modulating the range of color gradually, he moves in or out of the canvas employing a motif that's clean and straightforward. Concentric circles, rectangles, parallel lines -- each painting is self-possessed, without a trace of the mechanical.

NSTW-9, 2012, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

"I'm interested in the performance of color. I'd like to understand what the range is there, so I want take it as far as possible."

After exhaustive studio research, Dever selected Napthol Scarlet as his color of choice. Of all the red family, this one is closest to the color Vermilion, a 9th century alchemical mixture of sulfer and mercury. While it might have been an attempt to produce the philosopher's stone, it was surely a bright, opaque red that was used by painters for centuries.

"Napthol Scarlet provided the broadest range of tints, shades and tones -- but I was really surprised by the deep purples, gray lavender hues and ethereal pinks."

NSTW-6, 2012, oil on burlap, 36 x 36 inches
In an effort to disrupt the circle he began to leave portions of it blank, and it opened a compositional doorway that has allowed the artist to move through his paintings with greater confidence.

Of his antecedents -- artists employing a limited palette -- 
the list is long. Dever might best be allied to Agnes Martin, 
Robert Ryman, early Brice Marden and, to some extent, Giorgio Morandi. His work is all his own, but like Martin, the content of his art reflects an abiding interest in Eastern mysticism.
A yoga devotee, Dever's art runs parallel to his yogic practice which includes the study of Sanskrit and chant. His examinations of color and form dovetail pretty seamlessly into the artist's apprehension of material nature as described in Samkyha philosophy. 

"When I paint, I have a sense of mixing the three gunas (energies): tamas, (or black, darkness, matter); satva, (or white, light and the ether sphere); and rajas, (red, the energy that binds these qualities and all of existence).

NSIBTW-17, 2012, oil on burlap, 36 x 36 inches
Like breaking a long fast, the sudden apprehension of color was exhilarating for Dever. 

"I've never enjoyed painting anything so much. It's been over a year now, and I still feel that way. Moving out of the grayscale -- the possibilities are exponentially larger and more complex."  

Monastic at one end and exuberant at the other, embedded in Dever's visual language is a portrait of that glorious optic brain. The rudiments of vision -- here, a sort of subculture all its own -- offer a full spectrum of pictorial restraint, painterly finesse and deep breathing.
NSIBTW-10, 2012, oil on burlap, 36 x 36 inches and white...   

Jerry Saltz, Picasso's Monochrome Paintings Display a Rainbow of Emotion
 New York Magazine, November 5, 2012 


portrait of the artist

Friday, October 19, 2012


   engender, 2012, watercolor, mulberry paper, epoxy, 36 x 36"

M I K E   S O L O M O N
Returning to the Mark
Salomon Contemporary
"Art does not have to address beauty -- to reach for beauty. But it sure is great if it does."
Peter Schjeldahl, 2005, in conversation with Neal Benazra, director SFMOMA, Wattis Theater 

Mike Solomon's new paintings hover between subject and object with an irresistible, melt-in-your-mouth translucence. Their fleeting visuals -- soft, commingling bars of color that float in deep space -- seem to colonize in an effort to elude definition, but they flirt at the edges of actual moments, coalescing and pulling apart within small poetries of memory, awareness and redolence. Something akin to what the mystics call "fragrance."

Now on view at Salomon Contemporary, selected paintings and sculpture from three distinct bodies of work, each an examination of fluid grids, wave patterns, hyperbolic planes and a sort of painter's mindfulness, in this, the artist's first solo show in New York City.

memoria de Seville, 2012, watercolor, mulberry paper, epoxy, 36 x 36"

Sitting across from these paintings in his East Hampton studio last week, Solomon shared some thoughts about process, optics, Impressionism and painting.

"When I was working out memoria de SevilleI just kept thinking to myself -- this color is so familiar -- what is it? And then it hit me -- it was Seville, where I visited once in the 70s. It was just so familiar."

The redolence conjured in these paintings exists on a number of other levels, too. They ricochet between reminiscences of Bradley Walker Tomlin, Paul Klee, minimalism and various Cubist idioms and then bounce to the more specific -- like layers of hard candy, koi ponds or coconut jello. Solomon's interests are wide ranging, but with this body of work he dives into the tenets of early Impressionism -- "the beginning of everything," he said -- as the optic brain helped launch the modernist era. 

Like most studio processes, Solomon's is relatively unglamorous. With watercolor, he paints modest shapes across mulberry paper and then layers resin on each sheet, addressing the pages one by one. There are a lot of basics -- sanding, peeling, adjusting -- along the way, but as the paper and resin accumulate into thickness, a sort of hallucinatory grid begins to emerge. 

"In some ways I'm working blind," said the artist, "from front to back. The process is about aggregating things --my response is intuitive -- I don't ever know 
exactly how it will end."

For the artist, who is working in the reverse throughout this process, the results are often a complete surprise. Color and form gradually pool into luminous, milky squares. The elements unify into a solid -- like melted sugar -- and the paintings look almost edible, as if one could lick the content from their surface. The resulting imagery is magically diffuse.


Solomon has talked about this often -- the way things coalesce -- and the events that shape the outcome. These things are at the core of his work. Of his fascination with water, he has spoken about the "fact" of waves as a place where something happens in the x and y grid -- an event, if you will. To this end, his focus has been undeterred throughout some thirty years of art making. Driven by action rather than reverie, Solomon's work is often referential but non-specific, like breath on the back of the neck.

"The past is an aggregate of the present -- it's still 
there -- to me, it's a more accurate model of reality."

The Bombora, 1979, (Isla Vista, March 3, 12:00), watercolor on paper, 6 1/2 x 9 1/2"

In a series of early watercolors the artist captured reefs, water flow and wave action in small works that examine the subtle coloration and movement of the ocean -- a big subject. The Bombora, 1979, is titled for a surfing term (a term coined in Australia, now used worldwide) that describes large waves breaking over a shallow area in the sea. 

Petalon, 2008-10, nylon net, epoxy, fiberglass, tints, 33 x 44 x 14"
The confluence of events that generally makes this a dangerous wave also makes it a Bombora, which is an attractive "event" for surfers. Such an event is what Solomon refers to as that "x and y place" in the grid. It's a cool and precise way of describing the indescribable. He locates that activity -- something he knows well after years of surfing and fishing -- in sculptural works in which fluid planes are torqued into form, their content as ephemeral, yet specific, as his paintings.

through the garden, through the gate, 2012, watercolor, mulberry paper, epoxy, 36 x 36"

"It's sort of like reducing memory to a molecular 
level -- you see previous things, pentimentos of things."

And so, contained in Solomon's grid work are the moments, memories and the small poetries that function at the edges of actuality. That subtle piercing into the fabric of memory is one of the mainstays of his oeuvre.

detail, Bolster, 2008

His blog, All the Work I've Ever Done, is crazy in that way. It's literally a blow by blow account of Solomon's considerable experience in the art world, from both coasts to Florida and beyond.

Panta rhei, 2008

"Art, you know, it's messy. As much as that is abstract, it's hard to get away from the fact of memory."

To be clear, Solomon is not waxing nostalgic, he's speaking more of the physiological properties of memory -- the mnemonic and cognition, optics, neuroscience and the visual brain -- as if moments in time could be spliced paper-thin.

 On view at Salomon Contemporary 
though November 17 -- don't miss 
this glimpse at a rare hybrid of 
structure, memory 
and fragrance.