Sunday, May 5, 2013

raw material -- Alex Markwith

Untitled (Black with Pinks), 2013, 22 x 13"

Alex Markwith - Recent Work
ILLE ARTS - Amagansett

Alex Markwith's new paintings bounce from illusory fields of pitch black to color-punched assemblages made from cardboard, fabric and wood scraps. Markwith's minimal means yield vivid results at Ille Arts in Amagansett where they are currently on view.

The imagery in his black paintings is fugitive, and it seems to float across the picture face through total darkness. The larger the work the more phantom its pictorial architecture, and it sinks in and out of blackness like a mirage. For Markwith, black is an absolute.

Untitled (Large Black Horizontal with Red Vertical), 2013, 60 x 76"
Where light falls becomes integral to reading the larger black works like Untitled (Large Black Horizontal with Red Vertical) above. The painting is not monumental but it's large enough that it cannot be apprehended all at once -- not because of its scale but because of its darkness. It's like looking into a cave

Here, dark vs light becomes a phenomenon that forces the viewer to assemble the work in chapters, like a book, because you just can't see it all at once. You find yourself scanning the surface, identifying  passages as they emerge into light and relying on memory to assemble the picture in the mind's eye. The surface is visceral, dense and so intuitive that it's almost congenital in nature. 

As the work coalesces, its content comes into focus with rich passages of structural myth-making, overlapping visual idioms and instinctive formal decisions. The arrow shape at its center -- barely visible at first glance -- is tectonic, setting the stage for a picture space that is dramatic and filled with pulsing, abstract energy.

detail, Untitled (Large Black Horizontal with Red Vertical)

This is the dominant painting in the front gallery -- the first thing you see when you walk in the door. That its content is rich but so fleeting, anchored by a single strip of red pigment, is fascinating -- its surface and structure is sumptuous and it possesses a formal richness that smacks of spot-on impulse.

Untitled (Small Orange), 2013, 18 x 13"

Markwith understands color, too, applying it variously with painterly strokes that advance the picture field toward content or saturating it with such rich chroma that the works look not so much painted as they do marinated in color.

Untitled (Textural Painting 1), 2013

His decision making is instinctive, with a powerful formal structure. Shards of linen and pinstripe textiles cleave against the subtle ribbing of corrugated board, salvaged wood slats that reroute the picture space or dive across image fields with dramatic effect. His sense of order is intrinsic.

Untitled (Work on Canvas with Green), 2012

Markwith graduated from RISD in 2011. In the beginning there, he spent much of his time undoing the presumptions about Western canon with which he had arrived. His response to the dissolution of pictorial representation in works from the early 20th century fueled much of his understanding of abstraction -- a concept he had found untenable early on. Malevich, Schwitters, Scarpitta and eventually Rauschenberg figured heavily in this personal renaissanceIt's clear that he gets it now.

Markwith works both in Montauk and in New York City, with marked differences in each studio environment. Although he finds no determinate factors in either place, he acknowledged that the low ceilings in New York have an impact on scale. In saying that, I couldn't help imagine the structure of his works being impacted by a specific architecture. The works are quintessentially urban -- very much the product of right angles. And while his compositions are drawn from the 2-dimensional they possess a depth that is sculptural. Indeed, he also works in the round, with crisp and thoughtful results.

Untitled (Hydrant/Plug), 2013, 21 x 12 1/2 x 10"

Alex Markwith is someone to keep your eye on. Don't miss his show at Ille Arts.

Alex Markwith at Ille Arts

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