ROBERT MANGOLD: Paintings and Works on Paper 20132017
pace gallery | may 6–JUne 17, 2017
Since the mid 1960s, Robert Mangold has consistently examined the possibilities of support shape, surface, color, and drawing, in dynamic and equal relation. This exhibition of recent work is no exception. On deciding that abstraction had the capacity to communicate emotion as well as any representational painting, and that a flat, colored surface was sufficient to do so, the path was set. Mangold has been unswayed over the decades by the ever-turning merry-go-round of art world fashions and preoccupations. Whilst the means employed are traditional—canvas, paint, and pencil—the results are anything but, and in foregoing a build-up of opaque oil paint, the transparency and lightness of the thin acrylic used renders the surface quality on canvas as important as paper in a watercolor.
The paintings and works on paper date from 2013 to present. Typically for Mangold, the works here are in a series, in which the artist explores and responds to a range of particular characteristics. The focus is disciplined rather than dogmatic, the limitations enabling rather than restrictive, as is evident from the surprising configurations that arise from such relatively simple propositions.
Walking into the exhibition, one first registers the taut balance between drawn lines and modulated grounds of color within the variously shaped supports and their cutout interior voids. Approaching the surface of any one of the paintings then reveals the handmade lines, incrementally drawn in short strokes as they form the flowing loop that curves between the interior void and external edge. Then, and only then, the cursive adjustments of so many short pencil marks that comprise the flowing and precise lines, as seen from a distance, become apparent. It is an extraordinary aspect, fundamental to the paintings themselves and, of course, to the process of making them that is entirely absent from photographic reproductions—the real world is more often not as smooth and neat as a gallery invitational card.
Extended Frame B (2014), at 45 × 90 inches, is an elongated rectangle with a correspondingly proportioned void in the center. This is made by four stretched canvas panels, joined at 45-degree angles, that effectively isolate a rectangular section of wall. The two lines that each form a continuous loop weave across each other at three different points. They curve around the entire work, contrasting and establishing a tension with the rectilinear support. Because the two lines are a little wider apart at the left side of the painting, they appear as if nearer, forcing a slanted reading of the pictorial space. Over the pencil lines and across the entire surface is a stain of modulated green paint that blurs the pencil line in places, which softens the line and collects along the 45-degree joints of the canvas panels. The eye is compelled to constantly follow the flows and variations of line and color. I am not sure I can recall other paintings that function quite like the ones in this exhibition. Another painting, Two Circles Connected (2016) is a good example of how the paintings here differ from one another. This time, the rectangular support has one circular void off to the right hand side of the painting. A single line follows the outside contour of the circular void, and, like the trajectory of an object subject to gravitational pull, circles back after first outlining what appears to be a circle of the exact same size on the left hand side of the painting. This, naturally, is a positive/negative play, both visually and physically. The dove or concrete-gray color of the painting makes the white of the void, the wall itself, luminous. The works on paper are not direct studies for the paintings, but rather prepare expectations of how they might appear and loosely rehearse variations and relationships. The paintings and works on paper have an openness within a closed system that never seems stifling or dogmatic.
DAVID RHODES is a New York-based artist and writer, originally from Manchester, UK. He has published reviews in the Brooklyn Rail, Artforum, and Artcritical, among other publications.