Saturday, October 6, 2012

Focus...:

Focused Field: an online exhibition at Curating Contemporary 
curated by Brett Baker
This exhibition presents the work of seven artists, Sarah McNulty, Kazimira Rachfal, Dan Roach, Henry Samelson, Altoon Sultan, Ken Weathersby, and Brett Baker, whose small-scale and miniature works free abstract painting from the confines of its own recent history. Through an attentiveness to this under-explored scale, each artist challenges and extends the language of abstract painting. The results push the boundaries of gestural abstraction, site-specific painting, materials, and process, while forging fresh connections with painting’s past.


Focusing the Field (essay)

Expanding the visual field is one of the essential innovations of the New York School. This innovation redefined scale in painting so decisively that subsequent movements including Color Field, Pop, Minimalism, and even installation art all adopted it without question. Yet, while nearly every other aspect of abstract painting has been exhaustively investigated and re-imagined, examples of focusing the field to a small scale have been isolated and few. Miniature abstract paintings are almost non-existent. 

My first encounters with Abstract Expressionism’s signature expansiveness, in works by de Kooning and Rothko, made me want to be an abstract painter and convinced me that scale was a crucial component of the language of abstract painting. For a over a decade, I painted almost exclusively on a large scale, until circumstances forced me to radically scale down my work.

I moved from a large studio upstate to a small Manhattan apartment that functioned as both a studio and a home for my family. The change was fortuitous, though, for it opened my eyes to new painting problems. Instead of rehashing the problem of creating an intimate experience from immense scale, I concerned myself with preserving that immensity on an intimate scale. At first, a two foot square painting felt like a postage stamp to me, an impossibly small area. Ten years later, many of my works measure only 4 x 5 inches.

Recently, it’s been a pleasure to discover other painters - Sarah McNulty, Kazimira Rachfal, Dan Roach, Henry Samelson, Altoon Sultan, and Ken Weathersby - equally invested in small, even miniature scale abstraction. Though sharing a similar format, each artist challenges and extends the language of abstract painting in a different way. These painters use scale not as a commentary, but rather to push the boundaries of gestural abstraction, site-specific painting, materials, and process while forging fresh connections with painting’s past...

Ken Weathersby’s interest in miniatures was sparked by a scale model for a gallery exhibition of his larger works in 2010. He recalls, “it started as just a pragmatic process. But the feeling of seeing things reduced very small or, when next to full-sized pieces, seeing the huge leap in scale, became interesting, trippy, like Alice in Wonderland. It becomes uncanny and gets the imagination going.”

His tiny “model” paintings led to a group of diminutive works exhibited together as one work entitled Time Is the Diamond at Some Walls, an apartment gallery in Oakland, CA. In his essay for the exhibition Chris Ashley wrote, “To call [the small works] miniatures would not be an insult or diminution, but instead a useful label to place these small pieces as a specific set within Weathersby’s body of work. And though small, each works scale reads as large and full-sized, or, rather, right-sized”

“Rightness” of scale is significant to the achievements of each of these painters, born of individual visual concerns yet essential to the expression of each artist’s vision. 

 
--
Brett Baker

Notes
(1) Harold Rosenberg, "The American Action Painters," The Tradition of the New, Da Capo Press, 1994, p. 25.

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