Helen Miranda Wilson
In 2005, Helen Miranda Wilson, who has been celebrated for her small, highly detailed paintings of sky, landscape, still-life, and personal moments, began showing geometric abstractions, apparently having left representation behind. Wilson called them “calendar paintings;” they were grids of meticulously painted squares whose edges tilted ever so slightly, like blocks a child places on top of each other. They seemed to suggest Americana, particularly patchwork quilts and folk art, as a source. In her current show, she has moved far beyond those associations, and, in the process, achieved something quite radical. For just when nearly everyone thought that nothing more could be done with stripes laid down, one after another, and that various practitioners seemed determined to nudge geometric abstraction into a state of deep hibernation that I would characterize as minute variations on non-spatial stasis, Helen Miranda Wilson lets us know that we might have gotten it all wrong. As Wilson’s recent luminous paintings make clear, geometric painting doesn’t have to be large, static, non-spatial, and hard-edged. It doesn’t have to evoke the spiritual, continue the paradigm of paint-as-paint, or be painterly. It can do something altogether different: it can be intimately scaled, personal and impersonal, optically raucous and bitingly colorful. It can even be dizzying, as if you are standing on a high-speed whirligig, and the world is a bunch of feathery-edged bands of color flying by. And the colors glow, seemingly both solid and transparent.
Wilson paints on wood panels, none of which are bigger than 20 × 16 inches (a size Thomas Nozkowski worked in for years, and near the size that Tomma Abst currently works in, suggesting that small scaled works might finally be taken seriously). The bands of paint are smooth, meticulously so, with some of the edges extending into the adjacent bands, like cilia. The palette seems to follow no discernible order. Rather the paintings consist of aggregates of related tones interspersed among various colors. Wilson seems to lean toward hothouse and tropical colors—from sharp reds to pale pinks, deep blues to milky blues, a range of chartreuses (I had never thought about the fact that there are so many), different yellows, violets, with some browns, grays, blacks, and whites. Deep orange seems the only color that is in short supply.
Wilson’s stripes don’t sit contentedly within their borders; they push against the painting’s physical edges, like helium expanding a balloon’s skin to its absolute limits. Their relentless freneticism strikes me as very urban, and it goes against the received view that the culmination of geometric abstraction was the moment when, in his “black” paintings, Frank Stella used the stripe as a modular unit to “empty out” painting. In hindsight, and this is something that many abstract painters have continued to make apparent, Stella didn’t bring painting to an end. (Maybe curators will open their eyes one day, instead of committing themselves to the next thing in packaging.)
In paintings such as “He and I” (2007) and “Corridor” (2007), Wilson divides the painting into two or three stacks of stripes, the colors colliding against each other. In “He and I,” the bars making up each side are not aligned with their counterpart, causing everything to continually shift. Also, the division varies, with some groupings of the bars taking up more space than their corresponding groups. This inequality conveys a continual tension. It is an abstract portrait, at once deeply personal and completely non-anecdotal. In “Corridor” Wilson divides the painting into three vertical stacks. Despite the sudden changes in color, the width of the bars are the same all the way across, except in one place near the bottom. In addition, Wilson uses two different green bars that extend from side to side, dividing the vertical stacks into three distinct groupings. These decisions structure the paint plane, so that it is hard to see it all at once. Wilson’s jumpy paintings don’t let the viewer relax, and demand an active engagement.
In these paintings Wilson moves into a territory that is all her own. The paintings are color sensations in which a complex range of feelings and possible readings are evoked. It used to be, or so some people claim, that when a painter did something new and different, others would notice it. Except in the case of very few artists, this hasn’t been the case in years. Wilson doesn’t care, and that is to her credit. She has persistently gone her own way for nearly forty years, and never made a single concession to the marketplace or to stylistic trends. That, to me, is heroic.
Jan-Ole Schiemann: New PaintingsBy Andrew Paul Woolbright
MAY 2023 | ArtSeen
In New Paintings at Kasmin Gallery, Jan-Ole Schiemann utilizes a segmented compositional structure to annotate different modes of mark marking. The artist makes extensive use of pastiche within the gaps of the picture plane, in a process that disconnects signs from the literalness of representation.
Carol Saft: The Cynnie PaintingsBy Amanda Millet-Sorsa
NOV 2022 | ArtSeen
Carol Saft’s painting asks us to slow down, to self-reflect, and cherish the ones we hold dear. For Saft, that meant turning her gaze to her partner, Cynnie, who takes center stage in these paintings, and thus gives us an intimate view into the domestic life of a mature lesbian couple, a subject that has not often been addressed in this tender and quotidian way in art history.
Robert C. Morgan: The Loggia Paintings: Early and Recent WorkBy Jonathan Goodman
NOV 2022 | ArtSeen
Intellectual, critic, and art historian Robert C. Morgan also makes paintings, and has been doing so for most of his long career. The current show, on view in the large, high-ceilinged main space of the Scully Tomasko Foundation, consists of a series of drawings called Living Smoke and Clear Water: small, mostly black-and-white works, of both an abstract expressionist and calligraphic nature (early on in life, Morgan studied with a Japanese calligrapher).
On-Site: Major Paintings by Rackstraw Downes & Stanley LewisBy Alfred Mac Adam
JUNE 2023 | ArtSeen
In a bygone age of college football, Doc Blanchard Mr. Inside, and Glenn Davis Mr. Outside made headlines for the West Point Military Academy team winning several championships with their backfield game, running the ball on the inside and carrying it on the outside. Theyve now been replaced by a couple of landscape painters: Stanley Lewis on the inside and Rackstraw Downes on the outside. Both are plein-air artists; together, they take the landscape tradition in a new direction. Unlike the Hudson River School painters, they are not consecrating a virginal New World landscape, nor are they following the lead of Corot, creating beautifully rendered but imaginary places. They do not seek the picturesque, or endeavor to subjugate wild nature to artistic will. These two find placesor perhaps the places find themin nature overtaken by human beings, devoid of the picturesque, and that no one, most certainly, would ever call virginal.