WAAS Gallery opens “American Painting Now” tomorrow. Curator and arts writer Erin Joyce agreed to join us as a guest blogger today to give us a look at how she chose which works to include in the show, and tell us a little bit about each artist. Joyce is an independent curator, publisher of Ultra:Extra whose exhibitions been seen in the US, UK and Middlle East. Curators, if you’d like to share thoughts behind your shows, you’re welcome to do the same.
The journey curating an art exhibition can be an arduous one. It can start with wanting to showcase a single artists work, a general theme or concept, or an exhibition that plays off of a current event. There are multiple ways in which a curator can draw inspiration for an upcoming show. As the current guest curator for WAAS Gallery in Deep Ellum, I wanted to mount an exhibition that looks at the current climate of painting in Contemporary American Art. American Painting Now, which will open on November 2nd, features the work of five American painters all practicing their art in very diverse ways. HENSE, Nicholas Galanin, Adnan Razvi, Jacques Cazaubon Seronde, and William Ambrose make up the ensemble of artists whose work will be on display at WAAS.
In 20th century Art History, American Painting played an important role. The advent of the New York school, which included artists like Pollock, Rothko, and Newman, created a new visual vocabulary for what painting could be. These artists divorced themselves from literal representation and drifted into abstraction. They created something that was, for all intents and purposes, “American”. Then came the movements of Post War Art (WWII), which brought Conceptual Art, Performance Art, and other new and non-traditional forms of art making: painting did not disappear, but it became less of a fixture in the landscape of fine art. That all changed in the 1980s, when there was a resurgence of painting with such electric talents like Jean Michel Basquiat, David Salle, and Julian Schnabel. These artists, as well as their contemporaries, thrust painting back into the limelight and increased its demand both in terms of exhibitions as well as in the art market.
I selected each of the featured artists with a great deal of thought and consideration not just for their overall aesthetic impact on the exhibition, but also to ensure their convergence with the idea that American Painting is a genre that is evolving and embodied in a wide variety of ways. All the artists have unique modalities that stand alone; yet once they enter into the gallery setting they begin a conversation with one another. Their works display the absorption of their environments, refracted through the prism of “America”, their heritages, and characteristics of their medium.
For example, the work of Atlanta native HENSE, above, layers in the complexity and gritty nature of street art and graffiti, but mixes in vibrant use of color and bold line work, all elements that echo tropes of abstract expressionism and gesturalism. HENSE works in both mural installations and more traditional materials such as canvas, paper, and wood. His work has been commissioned globally with recent monumental mural projects in Washington D.C., Lima, Peru, and Chicago.
Completely opposite to the abstraction of HENSE’s work is that of William Ambrose. Ambrose takes on portrait painting, yet avoids the sticky and often banal genre’s trappings by employing the use of heavily saturated hues, non-local colors, and out-of-focus imagery, creating a tableaux that is reminiscent of such paragons of painting such as Gerhard Richter.
The engagement with elements of art history’s past continues with the work of Arizona native Jacques Cazaubon Seronde. Seronde abstracts trademarks of Impressionism and the notion of ephemerality through the vehicle of the American Southwest. The idea of man in the wild and the construct of the American wilderness and how man engages with that reality are the crux of much of Seronde’s work.
Diverging somewhat from what may seem to be an obvious “American” aesthetic is the work of Adnan Razvi. Razvi utilizes the visuality of his Pakistani heritage but mixes that equal parts with elements of American Pop Art, Street Art, and graffitism, creating a look that is truly unique. Razvi’s Islamic Pop appropriates elements of Andy Warhol, Islamic Calligraphy, and American Iconography creating a dazzling cocktail of aesthetics.
Finally, we can perhaps not enter into an accurate and honest conversation about the landscape of American painting in the contemporary art world without involving discussion on contemporary Native American art. Tlingit Native Alaskan, Nicholas Galanin is a tour de force in the art world at present. His multi-disciplinary approach to art lends itself much to the ideas of Sol Lewitt who famously stated, “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art”. Galanin allows the concept or idea he is trying to communicate to be embodied in whichever medium lends itself best to the idea. Of late, that manifestation has taken the form of painting on sea lion and polar bear hides, and incorporating Native Tlingit aesthetics with contemporary culture.
American Painting Now is a dialogue, a means to allow newness to engage with the hallmarks of past eras. The work by these five artists parley with art history and the canon of art, but interprets it in new and bold ways.