Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Announcing Material Abstraction: Bob Oppenheim, Carter Potter, Ulrich Wellmann, and Brian Zink

Colored thread, plexiglass, polyester film spacers - material reigns. Abstraction is an aspiration for the essential. At the height of Modernism, artists obsessed over how to make a painting that escalated paint to its most essential and most elemental state. Today, we bring together four artists: Bob Oppenheim, Carter Potter, Ulrich Wellmann and Brian Zink all seek new materials as the vehicle and the subject. The materials are simple, ranging from the indexical to the pristine. Each responds to its environment, reflecting or absorbing light, revealing or concealing process. The works surrender to these qualities, and the result is an aesthetic of  honest abstraction - in which a relentless physicality grounds the aspirations of traditional abstraction, marrying the physical and the ephemeral.

The artists enter into a dialogue with the material. Bob Oppenheim engages the physicality of canvas through the indexical gesture of sewing. Along his canvases, trails of thread weave - notes of a singular melody. The result is romantic and raw, as the visitor comes face to face with the tender relationship between the artist and his materials.

Carter Potter stretches filmstrips over wood frames, replacing the traditional canvas with a remnant of another medium. The images within each frame are the most representational work in the show, yet the abstraction in their repetition is as deeply geometric as Brian Zink's plexiglass patterns. The wall behind the piece is a material in itself, glowing gently through the filmstrips to illuminate the structure of the stretcher.

Ulrich Wellmann introduces paint as a material. Up against the soft white of the plexiglass, the oil hovers. Turns of the wrist highlight brushstrokes that float together like a cloud. The edges of the paint are important - a defined arbitrary border beyond which the plexiglass reigns. Along that border a shadow forms. A quiet chameleon, the soft white plexiglass frames and cradles the wild strokes.

Brian Zink's paintings are made of plexiglass. Patterns in a palette restricted by commercial production are fitted together with mechanical precision for a fetish finish that seems to hold secrets. Viewers are tempted to lean in, glimpse the work from a new perspective. One's own sharp reflection changes with the color of the panel, staring back at you. The reflections, inherent to the material, allow the tight compositions to breathe. A space opens up within them and one walks right into the world of pure color and pattern. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Morgan Bulkeley Review in the Boston Globe

Morgan Bulkeley has a new show of frenetic, cartoonish, apocalyptic paintings at Howard Yezerski Gallery. Bulkeley populates chaotic landscapes with lumpy naked figures, keen-eyed birds, and other animals.

Morgan Bulkeley, Chasing Big Bucks, 2012
oil on canvas, 36" x 48"
In many works, he activates the entire field with a frenzy of characters and paint flecks. There’s satiric social commentary in paintings such as “Chasing Big Bucks,” in which many such characters wrestle and fight over fives and twenties. These invite laughter and a knowing nod, but several other canvases featuring a more focused composition with a central image inevitably go deeper.

Morgan Bulkeley, Where Late the Sweet Birds, 2011
oil on canvas, 36" x 48"
“Unfinished Hogan,’’ for instance, depicts a couple embracing under a dome made from branches that stick through sketches. One shows a man cutting through a branch with a chainsaw; another has a clown jabbing a Native American in the eye with his thumb. The wry, alarming commentary is still there, but here Bulkeley also grapples with himself, as he builds a shelter from products of his imagination.

Morgan Bulkeley, After Sleeping Gypsy, 2011
oil on canvas, 36" x 48"
In these works, the artist does not merely create a Three Stooges-like scenario that rails against how the human race has undermined the environment. Bulkeley more palpably evokes humanity’s vulnerability, and the thin scrims of protection we wrap ourselves in.

Morgan Bulkeley, Blimp/ Hogan/ Airplane/ Tepee/ Crash, 2012
oil on canvas, 36" x 48"
Blimp/Hogan/Airplane/Tepee Crash” has an aptly descriptive title - it’s a middle-of-the-night disaster. Inside the hogan (again, apparently constructed of sketches), a woman sleeps and a man, painted in black-and-white stripes, sits beside her. Is he watching over her, or is he a predator? Is she a stand-in for Gaia, or is she us? There’s mystery here that is less evident in works such as “Chasing Big Bucks,” and the satisfying sense that Bulkeley is more and more serving his imagination, rather than harnessing it to his own ends.

- Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent
June 27, 2012