Painting at 56 Bogart

Ana Wieder-Blank
Honey Ramka | October 11–November 10, 2013

Tim Kent
Slag | October 11–November 10, 2013

Life on Mars Gallery | October 4–November 2, 2013

Clive Bell said the job of an art critic was to be a signpost pointing toward what was worth looking at. That’s always stuck with me for its succinctness. There’s been a whole lot of talk in recent years about the role of art critics, the importance of art criticism and so on, mostly among art critics. I guess I’m with Bell right now, anachronistic as that may be, as a sign post pointing at the 56 Bogart Building in Bushwick where painting, all of a sudden, seems like an important thing for a community to be doing.

Tim Kent, “The Night’s Heir,” 2013. Oil on linen, 144 x 84”. Courtesy Slag Gallery.

A painter often leads a solitary life, alone in the studio while others are with friends, lovers, and family. As Guston said, “A painter is someone who makes a painter,” and that is done by that painter alone. Or so the story goes. Every so often, circumstances let you see through a gap in that narrative toward a social constellation with a practice at its center. How invigorating to walk forth from the ego-driven confines of the self to the high plains of the collective.

Ana Wieder-Blank is exhibiting her muscularly colorful paintings at Honey Ramka, the first gallery in the long row on 56 Bogart’s first floor. Wieder-Blank holds an MFA from Pratt Institute and is a writer, dancer, and performance artist as well as a painter. Entitled Women of Song, it’s her first solo exhibition and a great place to start your stroll into painting’s soul.

Wieder-Blank is dialed into a modernist tradition that goes back to Jan Müller via Souls Grown Deep artists such as Mose Tolliver and Georgia Speller. She shares with them an ability to express wide emotional range with painterly distortions of the figure. I’d guage this to be a matter of spiritual kinship rather than direct influence since Wieder-Blank’s paintings seem unselfconsciously her own. (Likewise, it is unlikely that Tolliver and Speller knew Müller’s work, but nevertheless.)

Wieder-Blank paints larger-than-life size figures writhing together in scenes of love and violence taken from the Bible and mythology. The coloring is anything but local. Paint stands up in mounds from the canvas’s surface as riotous colors dance over the figures’ skins. Their faces and doings are often ghoulish yet a spirit of joy presides, like Emil Nolde without the inner void.

Part of the pleasure of this walk through 56 Bogart is the breadth of painting on view. Just down the hall is Tim Kent’s exhibition at Slag. Kent hails from Canada and has been active as an artist around Brooklyn for some time. To judge from this exhibition, entitled The Gambit, one thing he’s been doing in that time is stretching the expressive possibilities of painting interiors.

Looking back at the history of painting interiors for their own sake, I can’t get much further than Dutch artists Pieter de Hooch and Vermeer. These artists seem also to be present in Kent’s consciousness, if only as corollaries to the darkness that permeates the atmospheres in his stadiums, museums, and bedroom interiors. These are approximate descriptions—Kent’s paintings seem to contain elements of each, peopled with lugubrious apparitions of animal body parts, most commonly horses. All of these are strung together on a perspectival armature that seems to indicate the true source of Kent’s interest in interiors as devices for structuring space. He is flirting with digital imagery, but his technique is firmly grounded in painting’s history. Perhaps a cake-and-eat-it-too situation.

Ana Wieder-Blank, "Sarah Laughs at Strange News," 2012. Oil on canvas, 60" x 84". Courtesy Honey Ramka Gallery.

Painting demands that a painter articulates how a thing is seen in order to paint it. That is painting’s discipline: it insists on seeing, not just looking. Like Wieder-Blank, Kent is engaged in developing his own language in painting, using paint to explore the world’s visual field. But what different languages! And to what different ends!

These exhibitions engage in a dialogue expanded by Scale at Life on Mars Gallery, the last stop on my stroll. Scale is Life on Mars’ inaugural show and it is promising. Combining large and small paintings hung variously along the walls of the 1600-square-foot cube, the exhibition ignores genres altogether. Figurative work hangs neatly next to abstract painting. Some of the abstraction tends toward the geometric while some is gestural.

The paintings in Scale derive from various antecedents but all share an earnestness toward their content and their craft. The space is expansive and the attitude toward painting is the same. That the show works is a testimony to the validity of its premise—painting’s vitality does not derive from the intelligibility of its ideology but from the intensity with which it is practiced. That is what I am pointing to here: the current shows at 56 Bogart demonstrate the primacy of the discipline of painting over any particular content.

56 Bogart Street // NY, NY 11206


Ben La Rocco


NOV 2013

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