Monday, March 19, 2012

Matthew Marks Gallery. 522 West 22nd street. Terry Winters: Cricket Music, Tessellation Figures & Notebook. Through April 14th

Matthew Marks Gallery

Terry Winters first became popular in the 80's and early 90's by creating very elegant, painterly abstractions. I'm making a distinction between the term abstraction and non-representation, because
his paintings, while abstract, contained images of (or at least references to) things outside themselves. Usually he'd find inspiration in plant life, cell structure, and architectural forms like the geodesic dome. With most of this work it was difficult to determine what the images were representations of, but the drawing was always so specific that it was clear that the images had some representational source. I remember somewhere reading that Winters viewed painting as a means of creating hybrids of visual information.

Then, some time in the early 90's Winters changed styles. He did away with the organic colors and forms, and started painting these very graphic lines that would criss cross at tight angles. The lines would form structures, almost like he was making some very primitive architectural blueprint. His colors also became very garish, and deliberately ugly. Clearly he was challenging himself in order to avoid complacency. He was rebelling against the very things he made his name on, the things he was good at. While I admire his courage, and ambition in branching out like he did, I have to say I didn't much care for the paintings. I found them unresolved both aesthetically and conceptually, and I couldn't see where he was going with them.

Well, apparently this is where he was going. I'm told in the Press release that the term "Tessellation Figures" refer to the process of creating a two-dimensional plane through the repetition of a geometric shape. I guess the mathematical concept of knot theory also inspires some of the work. I have no idea what "Cricket Music" is. But, whatever the source, this is a stunning show. It consists of eleven paintings, nine of which are exactly the same size (76"x80"). The other two are slightly larger. The structure of the images are based on the grid, but are broken up into richly layered planes of light. The grids are warped, and overlap thus creating an asymmetry and an ambiguous sense of space. I couldn't help but think that they looked almost like someone had thrown a cinder block into a Rothko, thus shattering his giant silhouetted blocks of color, and turning them into broken shards flying through space. Those shards never completely leave the picture plane though. They look kind of like they're at a state where they haven't yet deciding what form to take once they reconfigure.

In spite of Winters early popularity he's always been seen as kind of a painters painter. I guess that's because he's always stayed true to that painterly non objectivist ideal, and even when the paintings weren't all that successful, he appeared to be very sincere in terms of process. It became very clear to me while I was looking at this work that if it wasn't for the Abstract Expressionist movement this kind of painting couldn't exist, but I was also acutely aware of why that movement was so important. The Abstract Expressionists, with their large scale, painterly, non objective, nonrepresentational canvases created a new and original identity for painting. A painting was no longer a picture, but an arena. An arena where activities, and interactions of color and form occur. What happened inside the framework of the canvas was not an image, but an event. The people who don't understand Abstract Expressionism do so because they never learned to adjust to this radical new way of seeing. They have my sympathy, because they truly do not know what they're missing. Winters is a virtuoso at this kind of painting.