Linda Daniels: Splits
On ViewLeft Field
May 7 – June 26, 2022
Los Osos, California
As more and more emerging painting comes across as less and less—though not in the modernist/Minimalist sense of less is more—Linda Daniels’s exhibition at Left Field in Los Osos confirms my assessment that her paintings of the past five or so years are not only the best that she has made, but also the result of the rigorous yet ebullient trajectory of her work that has transpired over the past forty years. These are judgments and conditions that I contend are more crucial than they may have ever been, as the painting of our time is swamped by willful formal amnesia and passive pictorial derivation brushed across canvas after canvas. (I know—mainly off the record—I’m not the only person thinking this, and some of us are, simply put, bored.) It’s a genuine pleasure when the consistent duration of someone’s production plays a critical role in keeping us engaged.
Having closely tracked Daniels’s work since the late 1980s, I have been privileged to witness the visual and conceptual drive of its development. Starting (ca. 1981) with unapologetically sumptuous monochromatic square paintings made with oil and wax that are presentational surfaces for regulated patterns of repeatedly incised marks (quite like written letter or number marks, but also not), she arrives, now, at this most recent series of square and rectangular paintings that take the decorative (in the most productive sense of that frequently abused term) to extreme yet poised points of saturation in terms of color, shape, and shape-as-color.
Daniels has titled this exhibition Splits as an indication of the importance of the central division of color and shape in each painting (either horizontally or vertically): each canvas presents two overall curvilinear shapes that can be looked as mirror images of each other, or, somewhat less likely but not impossibly, as one shape that has been “turned” 180 degrees in either direction to become its formal equivalent on the painting’s other half. Already, this attempt at a description helps push against concluding too quickly that these paintings are simple. While it is accurate to point out that Daniels has made paintings in the past that contain more components, whether in terms of colors and shapes or marks, textures, or even the number of physical panels that comprise an individual work, in these recent singular paintings it is the surprise of the complexity that emerges, in terms of their durational and material qualities, that helps them function as works that are splitting together, rather than apart.
All of the paintings from the past five years make use of this split; however, Daniels selected the works for this exhibition by focusing upon those that make use of a single color paired with black. (Other paintings not included here pair two different colors without black.) This guideline gives the exhibition a continuity that anchors the experience of differentiating the ways in which the positioning of curves creates the variety of shapes from one to another, as well as (in the small square paintings) the instances of a white curved-diamond-shaped puncture in the center of the canvas: they are and are not holes, as the white of each painting doesn’t merely read as a ground for shaped figures. Moreover, and I don’t mean this literally, I found in this room that it was possible to pretend as if the black shapes were the “shadows” of those in color; my suggestion being that these paintings encourage a kind of sophisticated play with perceptions of space that is also supported by the associative capabilities of some of the combinations of curves (for example, Black Violet-Blue with White  is pretty funny), as well as the ebullient color choices.
It’s important to acknowledge the inspirational role of Left Field itself in adding significantly to my experience of these paintings. As a small space run by the artist Nick Wilkinson in the Central Coast community of Los Osos, it gave off what I consider to be a perfect vibe. So many painting exhibitions in particular are ruined by rooms of lousy, thoughtless proportions; Wilkinson got his just right. Seeing installation views a few days before visiting, I was struck by how intimate the room actually is, approachable without shrinking the space demands of Daniels’s paintings. Moreover, the room accentuated the tactile qualities of the paintings’ surfaces, their impeccable facture with no brushstrokes in sight. Put another way, if photos make the paintings look graphic, the photos are lying. Also, they are neither stenciled nor taped. Over the course of her practice, Daniels has acquired her impressive command of space, walls, and structure, and, yes, color and shape, by absorbing the impact of the work of Matisse, Ellsworth Kelly, and Bridget Riley—no small task. With these recent paintings, she has fully claimed these long-standing components as her own.