May 142024

“Swirl of Sounds- The Ghost in the Banyan Tree”, 1976, Oil on canvas

“Flotilla”, 1962, Oil on linen

“The Blue Drum Path to the Open Coast”, 1977, Oil on canvas

The paintings in Alice Baber: Reverse Infinity at Berry Campbell are alive with color. The delightful paintings were created using thinned-down oils and acrylics to give the work a watercolor effect.

On one wall, the gallery has included the quote below in which Baber described her process-

“When I first conceive of a painting‭, ‬I must feel it‭, ‬I hear it‭, ‬I taste it‭, ‬and I want to eat it‭. ‬I start from the driving force‭ ‬of color‭ (‬color hunger‭); ‬then comes a second color to provide light‭, ‬luminous light‭. ‬It will be the glow to reinforce the first color‭. ‬I then discover the need of one‭, ‬two‭, ‬three‭, ‬or more colors which will indicate and make movement‭, ‬establish the psychodynamic balance in midair‭, ‬allow freedom to take place‭, ‬add weight at the top and bottom of painting‭, ‬and create mythical whirlpools between larger forms‭.”

Alice Baber‭, ‬Color‭, ‬1972‭

This exhibition closes 5/18/24.

Mar 152024

“Northern Lights”, 1959, oil on linen

“Untitled (Near the Cove)”, c. 1958, oil on linen

“Fresh Air”, c.1958-1962, oil on canvas

Although better known for her figurative paintings, Jane Freilicher also created several large abstract paintings which were on view last year at Kasmin gallery in NYC.  The paintings hint at a recognizable landscape, but through her use of color and energetic brush strokes she evokes the feeling of being immersed in the beauty of nature- without the boundaries of a more realistic representation.

From the gallery about the work-

The exhibition presents a group of paintings in degrees of abstraction, realized by Freilicher between 1958 and 1962, a period of great inventiveness when the artist was spending stretches of time in Long Island but had yet to establish a studio there. The series marks a crucial moment of discovery and focus for Freilicher, who went on to integrate the freedom, fluidity, and confidence developed during this period into her more recognizable still lifes and landscapes of later decades.

Freilicher’s abstractions have their roots in observation, informed by her studies with legendary abstract painter Hans Hofmann at his schools in New York and Provincetown. In this group of paintings, pastoral landscapes from Water Mill, Long Island, are translated through the lens of the artist’s memory into confident gestural compositions defined by their use of color and sensitive depiction of light. In a 2006 interview for The New York Sun, the artist tells writer Jennifer Samet of this evolutionary moment in her practice: “I remember being overwhelmed by aqueous light and the obliteration of the horizon by fog.” Freilicher’s palette returns repeatedly here to a combination of off-white and light blue, rendered in loose brushwork across an expansive pictorial space to give a palpable impression of the airy, open landscape of the country.

Breaking out of the domestic scale necessitated by previous studio spaces, this generative period saw Freilicher regularly visiting Water Mill and then returning to her Manhattan studio where she would collapse the formal elements of the rural and coastal environments into energetic, improvisational paintings that were significantly larger than her earlier works. While approaching pure abstraction, the paintings from this period retain a compositional recognition of their ordering principles—the horizon line, a boat’s mast, the position of the sun in the sky, and, in the artist’s words, “long vistas of clouds and water.”

The metamorphosis of landscapes that figure prominently in the artist’s life are representative of, as Roberta Smith identified in 2006, “a more personal, grounded version of Color Field painting.” This observation bridges Freilicher to a loose group of contemporaries whose considerations of their immediate environments brought great warmth and aliveness to varying shades of abstraction—Milton Avery, Etel Adnan, Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin, and Willem de Kooning (whose own abstract landscapes inspired by his time on Long Island went on view at Sidney Janis Gallery in 1959).

Mar 082024

“Valentine”, 2022, oil on linen

“Braid”, 2022, oil on linen

“Braid”, 2022, oil on linen (detail)

The two colorful paintings above are from Andrea Belag’s 2023 solo exhibition, Currents, at Bienvenu Steinberg & J in New York.

From the gallery’s press release-

Since the 1990s, Belag has constantly modified her approach to abstraction through various transitions and mutations. Her internal genealogy matters as much as her relationship to a tradition of abstraction. In the words of artist and critic Julian Kreimer: “it’s not hard to metaphorize those traces, lines left behind by larger swaths of paint that were wiped away, lines whose own shifting colors reveal how they are made by what they’ve touched and changed. But as with so many of Belag’s paintings, the point isn’t to nail down the metaphors (…) Belag’s work becomes an edge condition for painting without flirting with minimalist near-nothingness; it tests out where beauty can emerge, and what we can get to work. It opens up from a few wiped shapes into a sophisticated object able to transport one into a reverie about slippage, slipping away, the here and not hereness of life, death, and the varieties of love”.

Geometry and order have progressively given place to swirling swaths of color, solidity replaced by suspended motion. Painting is an all consuming action. She paints standing up, leaning over and often walking around the canvas placed horizontally. It starts with the arm and as she walks around the canvas her whole body gets involved. Transparent colors on the surface are not fixed and can create form or dissolve into light. She rubs, smudges, and scraps to create translucent, softly luminous surfaces where the brushwork is strikingly visible. “My paintings are contemporary because I paint in the here and now. It’s unavoidable. The artists I feel indebted to are Henri Matisse, Mary Heilmann, Joan Mitchell, Gerhard Richter, Bill Traylor, and Japanese Zen gardens. Style is a dead-end, but I have a point of view. I love transparency and the touch of materials, so I have created a way of painting where I make this possible. I use mostly transparent pigments and fine linen, and I paint wet into wet. The marks are on one layer of the painted surface with very little overlap or pentimento. Color makes space and light come through the paint and emotion comes through as well. There is fear and desire in painting, and that’s addictive. Haptics are the touchstones.” (Andrea Belag, 2023)

Her current solo exhibition, Twombly’s Green, opened this week at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects.

From their press release-

This grouping of work is, as the title suggests, inspired by Belag’s recollection of Cy Twombly’s use of the color Hooker’s green in his “Pond Paintings.” She writes-

These paintings are inspired by my memory of Twombly’s green and white paintings that I first saw in the Menil Collection in Houston in 2015. I was stunned by his paint handling and his use of Hooker’s Green.

Since then, I learned he painted quickly and directly with his hands. Discovering the “Pond Paintings” was unexpected and I kept thinking about them. Hooker’s green is opaque and dark. But the dark value doesn’t overwhelm the hue. Instead, there is richness and depth without a trace of yellow.

When I identified the pigment and started to paint with it, I felt a vibration. There was a time when painting with green was taboo and now it is ubiquitous.

Is green in the zeitgeist?

All painted within the last twelve months, these works are a continuation of the artist’s practice of lush, energetic abstraction. Playing with circularity in an ongoing attempt to “get away from the grid,” Belag uses color as forms in space, bodies set in motion. Citing foundational inspirations in Matisse and Guston, who she later studied with at the New York Studio School, Belag’s work can also be related to vanguard practitioners of 80s abstraction such as Bill Jensen, David Reed and Mary Heilmann. Her immediate peers Christopher Wool and Joyce Pensato are also compass points in the stripped down dedication to raw painterly brio they share.

This exhibition is on view until 4/13/24.


Apr 142023

“The Rake’s Progress”, 1991

“The Rake’s Progress”, 1991 (detail)

“Magnet”, 1992

“Magnet”, 1992 (detail)

“Stella Polaris”, 1990

Currently at Gagosian in NYC is Helen Frankenthaler’s Drawing within Nature: Paintings from the 1990s. The exhibition includes twelve paintings and two large scale works on paper.

From the press release-

My pictures are full of climates, abstract climates, and not nature per se. But a feeling. And the feeling of an order that is associated more with nature. Nature in seasons, maybe; but nature in, well, an order. And I think art itself is order out of chaos.
—Helen Frankenthaler

Frankenthaler’s celebrated 1952 composition, Mountains and Sea, was the first of her soak-stained canvases and was highly influential in the development of 1960s Color Field painting. By the 1970s, though, she had amplified her methods to include the expressive possibilities of surface inflection and density. Over the course of the 1980s, highly painterly canvases became her principal pictorial means, soon resulting in, during what would be her final decade, canvases of the greatest dramatic impact of her entire career, some of an unexpectedly large size.

Drawing within Nature features works dating from 1990 through 1995, made following Frankenthaler’s paintings retrospective which opened in 1989 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Composed in her studios in New York; Stamford, Connecticut; and Santa Fe, New Mexico—where she held a summer teaching residency at the Santa Fe Institute of Art in 1990 and 1991—these abstractions are inspired by the artist’s experience of landscapes.

Works in the exhibition include Poseidon (1990), more than eight feet wide, which calls on qualities of Frankenthaler’s earlier soak-stained canvases to evoke ocean currents, with its wet-on-wet passages of aqua, white, and green. The even larger Stella Polaris (1990) sets streams and patches of dense cloudlike white paint beneath the starlight of its title. Western Roadmap (1991) transforms the desert rock and glowing sunsets of the American Southwest into a stratified abstraction that hangs within an almost nine-foot-wide panorama. Reef and Spellbound (both 1991) lay out washes of rich, glowing color of varying density across dark grounds. The verdant hues of The Rake’s Progress (1991) suggest a garden in bloom, and show how Frankenthaler began to use gel to thicken her paint as well as combing and raking tools to create tracks bearing the imprint of the energy passing over the surface.

Painted a few years later, in acrylic on large sheets of paper, Flirt and Aerie (both 1995) are less grounded in memories of landscape vistas. Rather, their open, cursive forms invoke vividly colored and magnified details of drawing within nature.

This exhibition closes 4/22/23.