Sunday, September 2, 2012


Tatiana Berg, Just Tent, 2011, paint on canvas and wood with casters,  45 x 29 x 29 inches

Professional skateboarders have a saying, “skate how you feel, not how you should,” and the most experimental and engaging artists have always operated just like that—working how they feel, not how they should. Currently, I see painters and others asserting their freedom and pushing the progression of painting in increasingly fresher ways. Specifically, I’m noticing more loosely hung, sometimes radically altered or reattached swaths of canvas (among other things) without need of being held taut and hung into place by stretchers. In other examples, the stretcher bars remain, but they’ve been reconfigured in diverse ways with vastly different intentions. But in the most arcane instances, paint has been applied to other objects altogether: utensils, detritus, you name it. It’s clear there’s no further pushing of the picture plane here, but some rather bracing yet energizing examples of painting post-plane.

Karla Black, At Fault (detail), 2011, cellophane, paint, sellotape, plaster powder, powder paint, sugar paper, chalk, bath bombs, ribbon, wood, dimensions variable 


Working with canvas freed from its tidy confines forces one to confront a whole new set of variables: how it’s cut—or not, how it hangs—or not, and exactly how pigment is deployed upon it. In addition to considerations of paint, loose or rearranged canvas often involves sculptural issues. Stretcher bars reinforce the fact that a 2D ground has been prepared and readied for mounting. The absence or modification of that familiar hardware suddenly forces one to assess how an orphaned swath of fabric will hang in its spatial surroundings. A change or removal of supporting structure puts a painter into the position of a quasi-engineer because the painted surface no longer behaves the same way; instead, it begins to exist as an object to be tamed or dealt with so that it can be exhibited. So in many instances, working in this manner emphasizes the thing-ness of the thing at hand and advances the issue of image versus object and all other things in-between.

Sharon Butler, Untitled2012, pigment, binder, pencil on unstretched linen, 48 x 60 inches


The work of Tatiana Berg, Karla Black, and Sharon Butler is what I’ve had in mind lately. Berg has taken canvas and put in on wheels. Her pyramid-shaped mounts (which she calls “tents”) offer another place to see paint—close to the floor and with a certain amount of mobility. They cause an amusing confusion of image and objecthood. Karla Black is a sculptor who installs paint, but I think of her as an artist who strategically deploys pigment. Black’s work often envelops a space with supports ranging from poly to paper, along with such things as powdered pigments and soap. As for Sharon Butler, the force behind the blog, Two Coats of Paint, her unstretched linens have struck me as furthering the evolution of paint on canvas. They’re raw and rangy, and because they’re stretcher free, one must pin them directly to the wall. It’s that matter-of-fact way in which they must be hung that gives them a casual, contingent feeling, but with a unique formal power—fold marks, loose threads and all.

Jess Fuller, Mañanifesto, 2012, acrylic, fabric dye and canvas, 65 x 57 x 9 inches

When canvas is used in poetic, sculptural ways, the distinction between disciplines falls and hybrid areas arise. Jess Fuller and Noam Rappaport occupy two of those hybrid areas. Fuller doesn’t just paint on canvas; she dissects it, removing some threads and leaving the canvas to slouch ever so curiously. It’s not a precise method, which is part of the poetry here; things (the canvas itself) just fall into place, something akin to a Robert Morris felt piece, but with more manipulation from the hand of the artist. Noam Rappaport is a great example of an artist who’s bridging painting and sculpture. Often using a combination of metal, wood, fabric, and paint, Rappaport’s work is unique in the rather comfortable amount of rigor that it maintains. There’s a mix of relative ease and compositional experimentation. Some of his pieces are clearly read as painting, others as strictly sculpture, and a few are an equal fusion of the two. His entire body of work is a complex lesson to unravel and to learn from. 

Noam Rappaport, Installation view at White Columns, New York, 2010

Hayley Tompkins, Knife, 2009, found object, gouache, 9 1/4 x 3/4 x 2 inches


In broadening the reach of paint to found objects and to things sometimes considered sculpture, different vibes are generated that are hard to describe. A couple of instances come to mind. The first time I saw Hayley TompkinsKnife, which consists of a butter-knife with gouache applied to it, I was somehow reminded of Knife in Glass, by Richard Diebenkorn. Here was a situation in which an object loaded with paint had reminded me of a painting of a similar object—an uncanny moment for sure. The other occurrence of paint in unanticipated places is the work of Ruby Neri; plaster and ceramic sculptures with a polychrome of oil or enamel and roots in the Otis Group. Her most figurative works look as if they just stepped out of a Jan Müller painting. What adds to her whole situation is the fact that she also works in paint on canvas and it's apparent that both ways of working are feeding into each other. While patinated sculpture has always been done, the feeling I get from Neri’s work is the raw visual punch as color engages a surface that’s anything but flat.

Ruby Neri, Untitled (Painted Ceramic), 2011, earthenware, oil paint, steel with enamel paint,
30 x 11 x 11 inches

The work in this analysis is provisional, much of it is casual, but all of it is post-Greenbergian, very Rauschenbergian, and ravishingly Tuttleian. In trying to describe it, I grasp at the names of others because that which has come before is established fact. In so many ways, this recalculation of painting reflects a world in which information is moving faster and faster, consisting of image makers who are image laden. Through well-endowed museums, advances in printing and streaming digital, what’s already been done has all been laid out there—en masse. The ground that’s been taken serves as the point of departure and it’s that factor (and others) that contributes to the ramping up of alternative paths for painting. As a painter myself, I’ve also felt the influence of tradition versus progression and I believe the expansion of painting in recent years has come very naturally to all those involved. They’re painting how they feel, not how they should.


  1. Important selection of work, not only for its own merit but for the territory it opens up and supports and the ways forward it offers. Thanks, FB

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  2. Good post. Enjoyed reading and looking. Thanks.

  3. What a pleasure to be in such good company. Wonderful read, thank you!

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  5. Thanks for the read, I appreciate how you approach painting critically, yet honestly. I'm glad to have discovered your blog! Do you have a Tumblr?

  6. Thanks everyone for checking out this article and for your comments; the input is appreciated. As for Tumblr, etc., I do plan on taking things further for both of my blogs in the near future. Feel free to drop me an email with any questions or suggestions.

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