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