american painterly abstraction exhibition at lewallen

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Review of "American Painterly Abstraction: 7 Painters" curated by Ronnie Landfield at LewAllen Gallery at the Railyard


  • Publication: Journal Santa Fe Section; Date: Nov 19, 2010; Section: Gallery Guide; Page: S8

    geniuses of color Gallery exhibit features seven artists whose time has come Art Issues


    For the Journal

    If you think of Santa Fe as an open-air academy of learning with our galleries and museums offering courses during Autumn 2010, there has been a serendipitousconvening of American Painterly Abstraction from the 1960s to the present. Clearly the time is ripe for the recapitulation and reconsideration of this topic. The mostrecent effort is an exhibition of seven painters currently hanging on the walls of the capacious LewAllen gallery at the Santa Fe Railyard.

    Curated by the New York painter Ronnie Landfield, the exhibition includes ambitious, innovative work by himself and three of his close friends from 1960s DanChristensen, William Pettet, and Peter Young along with bold canvasses by Ron Davis, Emily Mason and Joan Snyder. Prominent here is the fearless experimentationwith acrylic paints and what a painter might do with it in a post-Pollock, post-Newmann environment where Pop Art, Color Field, Minimal and Conceptual Art were thereigning preoccupations. Until recently, the sheer volume of excellent American abstract painting produced from 1965 through the 1990s has remained largely hidden, ormore properly obscured by accelerating successions of the next-new-thing, further propelled by fevered markets. By necessity, artists who continued to paint in theirstudios have inhabited a different time frame. What they do is a craft and it takes time, and they are participating in at least a 500-year-plus conversation with theirpredecessors who care about pigment on cloth.

    As more authoritative, under-recognized late 20th century American abstract paintings regain the light of day, certain significant concerns are confirmed, while othercontributing factors are not so much re-emerging, as finally breaching the surface. With the benefit of hindsight, the complex interactions of feminism with currents ofthe time loom larger. During the 1970s, no one would have predicted that among the seven artists in this exhibition, it would be Joan Snyder who would be the mostwidely recognized and triumphant painter in the bunch, crowned by receipt of a 2007 MacArthur Fellowship at the age of 70. In a review of her 2005 retrospective, NewYork Times critic Michael Kimmelman ventured that during the 1960s in[to] a climate of macho Minimalism Snyder blazed new territory by adopting the grid as aloose armature for a newly expressive, deeply personal and materially extravagant art. Such is Snyders Vertical Strokes with White Ground, a 6-foot-square canvasthat is a field for episodic gestures that read as wounds, i.e., feminist autobiographical testimony. During the late-1960s, early bets were placed on the careers ofChristensen, Davis Pettet, and Young; and, each is represented by radiant canvasses at LewAllen. They are all geniuses of color and utterly distinct in theiraccomplishments. In 1968, Max Kozloff aptly characterized Christensen in an Artforum article as one of a species of abstract luminists. A maestro with the spray gun,his 1970 canvas at LewAllen is no match for two booming 1990s compositions of haloed bursts and controlled cascades of drips. Though Christensen is often creditedwith pioneering the use of the spray gun in painting, this claim would have surprised Transcendental painter Raymond Jonson. As a means of achieving luminous color,this New Mexico eminence gris of abstraction began making masterpieces with an airbrush in 1938. The roiling, saturated canvasses of William Pettet combine weton-wetspraying, staining and brushwork with a phenomenally dynamic and nuanced palette. Like early modernists who believed in Synaesthesia or sensory crossover, Pettet isimmersed in the language of color. His sudsy surfaces are at once painterly expanses and depictions of deep space. His 1969 Night is Still Ahead a burning orangehorizontal atmospheric froth is one of those paintings I wanted to bundle up and abscond with before night fell. One of Pettets day jobs was with Binney-Smith, theCrayola company that acquired Permanent Pigments Inc., the maker of Liquitex acrylic paints, providing artists with technically advanced, high quality, versatile productsin a broad range of colors, textures, and media. Although Pettet is most often associated with Lyrical Abstraction (as is Landfield), these canvasses distinguishthemselves by their turbulence and force.

    Synaesthesia is also at play in the Davis canvasses on view, a rarely exhibited expressive body of his work from the 1980s. Usually thought of as a painter of precisionand geometry, in Phase (Music Series, PTG 0757), 1983, Davis splattered Cel-vinyl acrylic in violently sensuous gestural activity to examine the relationships betweenvisual art, auditory sensation and vision.

    Youngs elaborate, smart, and accomplished paintings are among the most revelatory and satisfying in this exhibition. Somehow, they sing. The earliest is the pulsing,mandala-like #24, from 1974, after Young had dropped out of the New York art world. On the verge of a BIG career in New York, instead of attending his 1969 openingat Leo Castelli Gallery, Young was living with the Boruca Indians in Costa Rica, pursuing alternative visions of the world. His parents were collectors of tribal art and, as ayouth, he had become family friends with painters Lee Mullican and his wife, Luchita, also seekers of spiritual and totemic knowledge. With his introduction tohallucinogenic drugs in 1964, Young avidly pursued a quest: how to paint light. All the Young paintings in this show were painted in Bisbee, Ariz., where he moved in1972 and still lives.

    As indicated in the title of the High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975 exhibition, mind-altering drugs were a major factor of the era. In an openingweekend symposium at the gallery, both Pettet and Young identified psychedelics as fundamental to their endeavors. This declaration reinforced Daviss assertion at aHarwood Museum panel last August: I let the bud do the work.

    If you go


    WHERE: LewAllen at the Santa Fe Railyard, 1613 Paseo de Peralta

    WHEN: Through Dec. 12.

    HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Sunday by appointment.

    COST: Free

    CONTACT: (505) 988-3250 or info@

    geniuses of color

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    Peter Youngs No. 22 is a 1992 acrylic on canvas.

    Virginia is a 1994 acrylic on canvas by Dan Christensen (1942-2007).

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  • Vertical Strokes with White Ground is an oil, acrylic and enamel on canvas from 1969 by Joan Snyder.

    geniuses of color

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