Around the turn of the new millennium, and just as painting was undergoing a periodic declaration of its own demise, seven painters—Jason Eisner, Mariangela Fremura, Joren Lindholm, Tyler Loftis, Chris Protas, Dov Talpaz, and Jason Williamson—solidified their association as the core members of Painting in New York. It was a radical moment in which to pursue painting for the sake of itself, but the artists were undeterred. The diverse group first came together while attending the Studio School in New York in the late 1990s. Though their styles differ greatly, they are united by a foundational trait: the achievement, on canvas, of making space palpable. Their teachers, particularly Studio School founder Mercedes Matter, the influence of who has been profound, reinforced this tenet. Instruction had its roots in European painting, and in particular the teachings of Hans Hofmann, who underscored the importance of spatial considerations in conjunction with audacious color experiments. From these lessons each member of Painting in New York has carved their own path, a series of desire lines cutting through an otherwise untouched field. Theirs is a distinctly American sensibility, an unfettered freedom that these artists are not beholden to the rules and manners of a centuries-long tradition.
Instead, each has become adept with their individual vernaculars over the years, and their respective evolutions are evident in the present show. The means by which they seek to make space malleable ranges widely. For artists like Fremura, Loftis, and Talpaz, a painting should provoke a synesthetic experience, where the act of looking results in other sensorial reactions. One might taste sticky color, hear the waltz of a brushstroke, or discern in one’s body the space as it has been demarked on canvas. Talpaz and Fremura draw from a range of narrative or literary influences, while Loftis frequently paints from life. Eisner and Protas meanwhile, borrow from the graphic arts and comic illustration. One senses the presence of both Jean-Michel Basquiat and Philip Guston—other self-made American spirits—in their work. Through his instinctive knack for color, Lindholm not only achieves a precision that refuses to belie its intrinsic humanism, but also manages to describe the uncanny. Williamson also works intuitively, finding beauty in forthrightness and simplicity in the application of color. For all of these artists, painting persists as a lived experience, and they all strive to also move the viewer to that experience by manifesting pure sensuality in their painting.
As of this writing, America stands on the precipice of an uncertain future, having just chosen a controversial candidate for president in a bitter and divisive election. Many of its citizens are now questioning what the signifier “American” even means. Contentious moments are “precisely the time when artists go to work,” says writer Toni Morrison. “There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.”1 Painting in New York members, who hail from all different parts of the country and also internationally, are nonetheless a medley of American painters who have heeded Morrison’s rallying call. In their ever-unfolding styles, they continue to grapple with this question, as they have done from their nascence. In their works, the space between the crook of an elbow can contain an entire world, while the curve of a cheek might insinuate hidden mysteries. A beachscape seizes upon profound sorrow and a city square suggests something of the untold lives that presumably pass through it. No matter its subject, through the delineation of space each canvas expresses dimensions of humanity. And that, is painting right there.
14 November 2016
1 Toni Morrison, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” The Nation, 6 April 2015 (Volume 300, no. 14), 185.