Abstraction, particularly in painting, is difficult to write about. You are often stuck with banalities like "that white area should be a little bit more to the left," or "that blue reminds me of this one day when I was surfing Zuma." Andy Warhol, whenever he wanted to avoid a subject of discussion -- such as death -- would fob off the topic by saying, "Gee, that's so...abstract." The bane of writing about art, this abstraction is.
Terry Winters, one of the few artists in the New Abstraction movement in the Eighties (along with Ross Bleckner, certain Gerhard Richters, Christopher Wool) made it somewhat easier; he dealt in abstraction of things: plants, pigment structures seen under a microscope, flora and fauna -- something we could get a handle on. In the last decade he has broadened his range, creating allover works, Baroque labyrinths, architectural paint structures, which, while not traveling far from his original territory, seemed to open up possibilities in his painterly project.
Winters's current show, Cricket Music, Tessellation Figures, & Notebook, takes these ideas and brings them further into the realm of conceptual abstraction. He has introduced digital space and optic processes into the new work, creating an often dazzling, though sometimes oblique, sense of space. Winters depicts forms inspired by mathematical concepts, such as tessellations and knot theory, as well as shapes drawn from the natural and scientific world. His kaleidoscopic compositions of overlapping grids and patterns create complex pictorial spaces, and his recent use of transparent glazes (as opposed to his previous dense, hand-ground pigments) allow the viewer to see, as he says, "all the events that went into the making of the painting." "Tessellation Figures" in the title refers to the process of creating a two-dimensional plane through the repetition of a geometric shape.
Winters, a highly articulate artist, speaks about the influence of digital technologies in his painting. In a recent discussion he said, "The back and forth between media you're describing is part of what I was saying about changes in rhythm and shifts of scale.... Bringing in a wide range of reference materials along with other processes, techniques, and physical approaches to the way the paintings are constructed, are ways of expanding the work into new territories.... I think computers fundamentally change the way people approach information and visualization. Space is generated through thought, and that has some relationship to new technologies."
Indeed, "Tessellation Figures (1)" (2011) presents a layered, fractal-like kaleidoscope, something like Alice down the rabbit hole. Its handmade facture, though, reminds us of early CGI images in movies, or of Sixties experimental film. "Tessellation Figures" (2011) morphs Winters's earlier, earthy ground and biomorphic figures into a mash-up with a puzzle-like rectilinear form. Next to the completed form, three shapes, like the extra parts we end up with when we take apart a car engine or build an IKEA bookshelf, hover to the right, forms in search of a host. "Tessellation Figures (4)" (2011) is the show's standout -- the biological, flowery forms balance the composition, layers of triangular shapes strike a trippy note, and the washy blue ground is reminiscent of Matisse's still lifes. The organic and the synthetic mesh in harmony.
Notebooks, presented in a second gallery, explain the thought process from which these paintings developed. Layered computer printouts, children's drawings, and texts from science books are all grist for Winters's mill. While it is a common complaint that an artist should do his homework, just not show it in a gallery, Winters's noodlings are of interest here. He is a smart artist doing smart work. It is a bonus, and our good fortune, that they happen to be beautiful paintings as well. - Bradley Rubenstein
Pictured: "Cricket Music"
Oil on linen, 88 x 112 inches; 224 x 285 cm, 2010
Matthew Marks Gallery is at 522 West 22nd Street and 502 West 22nd Street in New York, New York.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.