Geometric Progressions BARBARA KERWIN
and several solo shows are highlighted in this catalog, spanning the years since my departure from Claremont Graduate University, where I was supported in my education with Fellowships and awards. It was through CGU that galleries contacted me for representation. I posited some questions in my MFA thesis: “Why must a painting be a rectangle and hang on a wall?” and “Why must a painting be made with traditional materials?” My MFA paintings, called Constructed Paintings, were freestanding, able to move about the wall or space, and enjoyed semi-‐elliptical forms, made of pigmented mortar and some were placed on the floor (Raked Wedge, left, 4’x8’). A large work, made of stretched landscape mesh and twine and other building materials, was pulled into a webbed Nest (see p. 41) in the gallery. It was a play of materials and how far I could stretch the term “painting.” In the solo shows sampled here, all of the works became rectangles, are about rectangles and all hang on the wall. A Modern painting format now dominated the playfulness of my graduate explorations. Although the format became the rectangle, I explored the rectangle now with great curiosity. The works in my earliest solo shows incorporated high-‐melt, oil in waxes, a method I developed for sensuality. This high-‐melt technique required the use of a gas mask in the making. The process was toxic and eventually I left the toxicity for much cleaner acrylic paint and additives. The first solo show in a professional gallery was called, The Grid, It was about architecture and was comprised of either white or umber paintings, which I refer to as the “Rilke Series”, and explored the space between the pieces on the white walls of the gallery. The next show, Fractured and Factured, playfully titled pieces made in homage to eight of my favorite modernist architects with 80s techno song titles—such as Tainted Love (made with a desire to be placed in a Mies van der Rohe space). Dreaming of Rectangles took a more lyrical approach to the grid exploring the connections of colors from my dreams and intuitions. Sequence, was my investigation into the origins of beauty using the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…which allowed me to explore the space within the square and its parts and to tightly control my color from cool neutrals up through heated reds. My fifth solo show, SCREENS, was presented as an installation, ostensibly, of paintings about film. Film production processes are used as titles: Take, Book, Set, Green Screen, Blue Screen, Lights, and Wrap… all components of film production, but they memorialize, for me, the passing of my impressive, journalist mother, who could really punctuate, and within a few years, my father, who really knew how to tell a story. The rectangle here is reduced to the space of itself, creating large, minimal fields of a layered color. The colors are deep and the screens are a place to project one’s personal stories. Works from the Windows series came next (2008-‐15). They use primarily acrylic paint. Windows were inspired by an attack of mononucleosis that left me flattened for three months. All I could do was watch the breeze out the window changing the composition of the leaves on the trees. The Windows are asymmetrical and employ a delicious, calming balance of the space without. In 2011, I began a series that I continue to this day, meditations on a need to redistribute the wealth on the planet for the greater good. These are the Wealth and Benefits paintings. They include the works Gold Bars, Patterns of Perception, Conversation, Time Zones and Time Frame. Geometric Progressions, a survey of my paintings summarized the work of the previous fifteen years. I was the recipient of the Los Angeles Visual Artist Innovation Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation. Dr. Constance Moffatt curated the survey and her essay accompanied the exhibition in 2012. It is apparent through inventing with the rectangle theme, the works are personal meditations on my life’s interests and passages. The Geometric Progressions exhibition included a video interview. I would like to thank the writers, Luke Carson, Marge Bulmer, Mat Gleason, Kerry Kugelman, Jeanne Willette, Constance Moffatt, and Betty Ann Brown for the reprint of their articles about the accompanying works and Gene Ogami for his photography. Barbara Kerwin
Pattern of Perception 65 x 70”, acrylic on panel
Time Frame 30 x 30â&#x20AC;?, acrylic on canvas 2015
Time Zones 65 x 70â&#x20AC;?, acrylic on panel
Elegant Integuments: Perception, Patterns, and Seeing Anew in Covering Ground “Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty—beneath its covering—that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.”-- Fra Giovanni Giocondo (1433-1515)
Covering Perceptual Patterns Barbara Kerwin deploys geometric abstraction for two goals that, at first, might seem antithetical. The first is conscious allusion to the art historical roots of the rectangular grid. High Modern artist Kasimir Malevich deployed the abstract grid as a new form of spiritual expression, stripping painting of its representational precedents, much as his more militant compatriots had sought to strip Russia of her oppressive social institutions (the Church, the aristocracy, private property.) More recently, Agnes Martin also used the grid as the foundation for her spiritually infused oeuvre. Writing in her adopted home of Taos, New Mexico, Martin asserted, “My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind…I think our minds respond to things beyond this world. Take beauty: it’s a very mysterious thing, isn’t it? I think it’s a response in our minds to perfection. It’s too bad, people not realizing that their minds expand beyond this world.” 1 Like Martin, Kerwin creates paintings that point beyond the visible world. They function as quiet meditations on balance, harmony, beauty, and the enduring order of the universe. Kerwin also uses her current body of work to explore the meanings and perceptions of gold. She is painfully aware of the world economic crisis, of the inequities of the haves and the have-nots, and how these inequities affect our individual sense of security. The golden bars that march across the canvases can function as symbols of the basis for our financial exchange system. The shimmering shapes that appear to shift and float over the composition can be related to the uncontrolled rise and fall of monetary value. Finally, Reign can be understood as a pun, referring both to dominion (gold is often called “the king of currencies”) and the fact that short vertical lines over the surface appear to “rain” down. Beyond the conceptual references to the modernist grid and gold as an economic force, Kerwin’s paintings have an exquisite visual presence. Shimmering in translucent levels of metallic and opalescent sheen, they radiate a jewel-like beauty. And intriguingly, their glistening surfaces remain as elusive as wealth, shifting and changing as light coruscates over them. -- Betty Ann Brown
Window V, Sienna Cliff and Debbie Schoenberg Collection Acrylic, oil in wax, on panel
Window XV 40 x 60â&#x20AC;?, acrylic on panel Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Ken Kraus
Cinnamon, Window XXII Private Collection, Los Angeles, 30x30â&#x20AC;?, oil, acrylic and wax
Red Scale II Grand Hyatt Hotel, NYC 5-12 x 12â&#x20AC;?each, 2005
Red Screen Rob Morrow Collection Oil in high-melt wax on panel 40 x 40 x 4â&#x20AC;?, 2005
SUM Alex and Andi Couwenberg Collection 7 x 70 x 7â&#x20AC;?, 2005
Blue Screen Moffatt/Maloney Collection Oil in high-melt wax on panel 40 x 40 x 4â&#x20AC;?, 2005 13
SET, 4—(40.5 x 53.5 each) 40.5 x 168 x 4”, 2005
Book, 40.5 x 53.5 x 4”, 2005
Wrap, Jim Lyons Collection, 70 x 7 x 4â&#x20AC;?, 2005
BARBARA KERWIN, “SEQUENCE” by Kerry Kugelman In her most recent solo exhibition at Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Barbara Kerwin eschews her usual proclivity for color and visual activity, grounding this body of work in an assured and graceful gravitas. Although Kerwin locates the conceptual matrix of her work in the realm of systems and order, its execution is refreshingly tactile and has, at times, had a sort of giddily careening quality in its informality. This most recent body of work is notable, however, for the comparative sobriety and restraint of both materials and content. Kerwin’s formal basis for some time has been her work with encaustic, a medium of wax and damar resin, which must be heated to be colored or manipulated, cooling into solidity with a flesh-like surface texture. The encaustic, thus colored, is layered onto a rigid support of paper or canvas over wood. Fascinated by the relationship of perceived beauty to ordered numeric and other systems (the Fibonacci series, for example), Kerwin has long worked with a grid-based organizational scheme, finding playful variations of color and form within the parameters she has set for herself. But the undulating patterns of different-sized and colored squares that had been a hallmark of her previous work have been replaced by larger, separate pieces of encausticcovered support, inserted into cut-out apertures in the larger panels. Where before an allover chromatic approach was taken, now the colors that appear are used sparingly, and thus to greater effect where they do show up. More telling is the move from the all-over grid of squares to the restrained sets of squares and rectangles in each work. The exhibition, a total of eight pieces, starts with only one inserted piece, then progressively builds both the number of actual inserts, and the implied relationships that begin to be suggested within each work. Three (all works 2003, encaustic on paper over wood), for example, lays out a tautology of balance between two white shapes, seemingly competing for or otherwise sharing a third, grey, shape, aligned with one side but not the other, the troika starkly laid out on a field of graphite-like grey. As the number of shapes increases, though, the chromatic heat goes up, going to the flickering red-on-warm grey of Thirteen, the red parts of which seem about to swell out of their boundaries, yet held in check by their tight arrangement. The sequence culminates with Twenty-One, in which the red field engulfs the grey inserts, perhaps in a wave of passion. Now the all-over field of repeating shapes is almost back with us. And make no mistake, this is passionate work. Kerwin escapes the rigidity that so often infects math-based or systems-derived work, because of her natural sense of sensuous tactility. The strangely flesh like texture and color of the encaustic, coupled with the relational dynamics of the inserted pieces, conveys a physicality that belies the highly ordered curiosity which drives Kerwin’s explorations, and resonates with the mystery of living energy so tightly bound to the structures it inhabits.
TWO, Alt. Abbott Brown Collection, 30 x 30â&#x20AC;?, 2003
THREE Abbott Brown Collection, 30 x 30”, 2003
Five Abbott Brown Collection, 30 x 30â&#x20AC;?, 2003
Thirteen Aaron Miles Collection, 30 x 30, 2003
Twenty-One Aaron Miles Collection, 30 x 30â&#x20AC;?, 2003
What A Wall Is (A Paragraph for Barbara Kerwin)
by Luke Carson
The French poet Paul Valéry tells us that he was “not over fond of museums.” Uprooted from their various origins and deflected from their proper trajectories, paintings in the Louvre find in each other the most unlikely company; like the visitor, they cannot know where they are, the space “savoring of temple and drawing room, of cemetery and school.” With the place they occupy lacking identity, neither sculpture nor painting has a home: “Their mother is dead, their mother, architecture. While she lived, she gave them their place, their definition. They had no freedom to stray. They had their place, their clearly defined lighting, their materials…. While she was alive, they knew what they wanted.” When he speaks of architecture, Valéry laments the passing of the European aristocracy, and as the home of painting and sculpture might have in mind the courtly households of the ancien régime. For Valéry, the modern household could do little more than gather commodities. Le Corbusier’s white villas of the 1920s would not persuade him that the loss could be repaired. But both Valéry and Le Corbusier knew that if architecture is mother to the arts of painting and sculpture, it is because it acknowledges that material needs press for more than mere satisfaction. While modernist architecture was stern with the desires it deigned to acknowledge, it nonetheless sought to rehabilitate domestic space in a way suitable to the demands of the modern city. Though I have no evidence, I suspect that vangardists of the many orphaned arts would find it harder than Le Corbusier to seek and to celebrate without embarrassment “the everyday joy that is found only in the home.” Yet his happy homes with their white walls seem awfully monastic, and make one want to say what there is to be said for a hearth, which is much. Perhaps the point of such asceticism is that it leaves so much to be desired. Though often profligate and dissolute, modernism sternly teaches even its audience the discipline of craft, and is happier in the studio than the home. While every painting that comes under Valéry’s gaze inhabits the shadow of a noble household, I suspect that he would be happier were the work to remain in the artist’s studio, even in the artist’s hands: an object of work’s disciplinary pleasures, not of “the everyday joy that is found only in the home.” I exaggerate, but the white wall of modernist architecture did serve a visual discipline to resist ornamentation. The mother of painting and sculpture only welcomed them into the home under strict conditions. But Valéry’s metaphor might mislead me here, for the architectural space of modernism was notoriously masculine, and came into being with the exclusion of feminized ornament. The white wall became the frame and background of a work that had to answer to this ascetic regimen. More fond of museums and galleries than Valéry, I am grateful for Le Corbusier’s white walls, which stand like permanent and adequately sparse installations in those places.
One could perhaps be forgiven the experiment of seeing the paintings as obstructions to the perception of the flat surface, as ornament. It may otherwise be difficult to understand why modernist architecture had a vexed relationship to painting. Modernist painters similarly vexed their adopted art, and some sought the flatness of a wall. It would be tempting to call Le Corbusier’s bluff in The City of Tomorrow when a rectangular space on a white page is “left blank for a work expressing modern feeling.” What could lay claim to that site and hang there? Nothing, if one suspects that his blank space is really the solitary white wall of an architectural work. Or that the white wall is itself the work of art, framed in a grid of further walls and further works. Little can be more traditional in painting than the shape with four corners. Even if a canvas is empty of anything but its white surface, the shape retains the aura of the work of art. But the blank square or rectangle is the building block of modernist architecture, the grids and cubes of which can be extended on a colossal scale. On a visit to a museum, which I here commemorate by mentioning, I asked Barbara Kerwin what relation her works bear to the domestic spaces of modernist architecture, and she replied: I see them hanging on the white walls. She recognized that this was ambitious, even presumptuous, perhaps because that space is “left blank for a work expressing modern feeling.” In order for the act to be the homage she aimed for, the painting would have to occupy that blank space with great humility. But the eye would be drawn to such paintings as hers, and feel the desire to dwell there. Mine would take pleasure in an ornamentation that, far from being humble, ironically reiterates on a smaller scale the larger structures of the architecture it honors. Le Corbusier’s modernism stands firmly on the ground, but with its lines and grids so shapes space to entice one to the immateriality of spirit. The equilibrium of Kerwin’s pieces hanging on a modernist wall lies in their corporeality. Her hand-worked squares and rectangles, arranged into grids, incorporate what the white wall occludes: one body touches – and with its eyes almost touches – another. A grid flattens the surfaces of which it consists and extends them outwards by repetition. When someone much less an amateur than myself says that the grid encourages “an indecision about its connection to matter on the one hand or spirit on the other,” my sense of Kerwin’s work finds suitable words. Le Corbusier’s space left blank, though it is a flat white rectangle outlined on a white wall, wants to hold our gaze: something will materialize there. But first space must be shaped by architecture so that persons can inhabit it and find each other there, and occasionally hold each other’s gaze. Kerwin’s work comes to me personified, and acts like the bodies by which persons appear to us. Each part of a piece has its own countenance, and its various moods keep company with the others. The word “Shar’d” punningly asks us to consider the single piece it entitles as the occasion for six shards to share space with each other – on the condition that each shard, though a fragment of a whole, is permitted to retain its own identity. Yet by virtue of resemblance, they also share something of their identity. But since each has answered differently to the hand that made it, the six rectangular canvases of “Shar’d” come together, and – diffidently, impassively – guard their distinction. Unlike the white wall, the flat surfaces of these works are visibly constructed, and by hand, into place. But in the flush of self-knowledge some don’t rest easily in place, and come forward – whether as your eye meets them, or when it’s not looking – to greet you or to regard you as you leave. I am thinking of “Metonym,” a work whose name again catches the sense. Like metaphor, metonymy (which means “change of name”) is a rhetorical figure that substitutes one name for another.
It finds a substitute by association, so that “crown” is a metonym for the king, and “roof” or “hearth” is a name for home. Metonyms appear when one thing assumes the identity of another simply because it is always nearby, while retaining its own identity (a crown cannot be king; you can’t live in a hearth). It is fitting that the pieces that compose “Metonym” won’t hold their place, and assert their distinctness in spite of their resemblance. Some come forward while others retire into the background. If this were a wall (of brick, say) it would not be selfsupporting, for the pieces can’t rely on each other. Nonetheless, though each is its own piece, a work unto itself, they will not come apart. They assume each other’s names, and find identity in association. “Innermost Beat” on the other hand tries by contrast to insist on the integrity of a single surface, and the grid is the form in which the pieces are able to compose as unbroken a surface as possible. Each is responsible for registering the pulse that courses through its matter, which is sensitive to its sustaining affections, and perhaps also to grief. But each part keeps its counsel and protects itself. Under such conditions, particular differences – the accidents of touch and imperfections that the flat surface displays – are protected by the small gap that distinguishes each from each, and remind them that each came into being separately, and that each will remain opaque to the other. But their mother is architecture, and they build relationships by inhabiting a shared space. The three vertical pieces that minimize the horizontal dimension of the grid recognize that architectural space sustains them. “Sibilant” says so minimally, with two of its pieces resting on others; the force of “Falling Water” pauses and rests on itself as it appears to be passing by. “Styx,” which is also water, rests on the level line beneath it, which in offering resistance is given density. But “Styx” also looks in its movement past the boundaries its pause nonetheless makes definite. Even when it is not manifest, the grid in which these parts too are placed remains both vertical and horizontal. It is what gives these things their flatness, and allows them to express in their countenance the identity they assume in association. The further it expands, the more there is to say and to show. The repetitions multiply distinction. “Morning Light” seems most eager to multiply parts in order to reveal the most it can of the light coming into appearance. But as I look at the window in front of me, with its lead grid, I don’t see in any pane the marks of the touch that encaustic carries. And the pieces of glass can’t come close enough together to efface the lines that separate them, which the light can’t illuminate out of sight. If the name “Morning Light” is literal – and I begin to think it is – then this delicately worked encaustic has allowed the light a body. Expecting spirit to be light, we imagine ourselves disappointed when we find it is not, and might find pleasure in expressing that unhappiness. In the meantime, spirit continues to love matter, as all the good books tell us it always has, even when the light by which we read is weak. Though its space is not defined by perspective, “Morning Light” is still a translucent window or wall of windows, each attesting individually to the presence of light within and without it. I too imagine these works hanging on the white walls of a domestic interior. They seem to me grateful for gravity, and the weight by which they are suspended here. Note: I have cited from the following writings, in order: Paul Valéry, “Le problème des musées,” in Pièces sur l’art; Le Corbusier, Talks with Students and The City of Tomorrow; Rosalind Krauss, “Grids” in The Originality of the Avant-Garde. Though I do not cite Mark Wigley’s book on modernist architecture, White Walls, Designer Dresses, I recommend its pleasures to others.
Autobahn Abbott Brown Collection, 72 x 84â&#x20AC;?, 1999
Metonym Kauffman Collection Oil in wax on wood blocks, 36 x 36â&#x20AC;?, 2001
BARBARA KERWIN: DREAMING OF RECTANGLES by Marge Bulmer Barbara Kerwin builds complex paintings involved with pattern, texture and color. They stir the imagination and invite you to contemplate form and surface, as well as light and shadow. Kerwin organizes her work into a tight structure and then intuitively assembles each square or rectangular module. Translucent, evanescent light dances across encaustic paint, evoking shifting light on the desert, flickering hues on the ocean at sunset, evening purple shadows, or glowing summer morning light. Kerwin constructs her architectonic systems as though she were building an edifice. As a matter of fact, her first two years in college were spent studying architecture before she switched over to Fine Arts. She uses layers of leach paper, a material utilized by contractors, panel board, or layers of canvas to form a sturdy work surface. Her sub-structure of blocks measuring 2 x 2” combine with a variety of colors such that the composition carries the eye in and out, up and down and across. She achieves her rich color by combining oil pigment with jeweler’s wax mixed at an extremely high temperature. The paraffin adds an evanescent translucence. Although multiple layers of paint are applied, the surfaces are not heavy or thick, but rather somewhat transparent. One feels impelled to touch and investigate how the effect is achieved. The largest painting in the exhibit, Premnemonic, is a combination of 240 separate square paintings, each a subtle and distinct shade of pink, peach, ochre, mauve, soft beige, and even a hint of green. These are joined together so that the colors optically combine and separate as your eye moves across the surface of the work. A pink sunset reflecting on a body of water comes to mind. Then again, the colors also suggest the mauve and pink California light on the Mojave Desert. Innermost Beat, done in shades of deep crimson, dark red wine, and bright cherry red conveys a deeply passionate encounter. The brown, orange, and ochre shades of Metonym call to mind the New Mexico landscape. Each piece encourages you to revisit a variety of personal associations. The yellows and golds of Morning Light glow like light streaming in the window on a summer’s morning, while the dark purple, midnight blue and lavendar in Shard are like shadows cast from a grove of trees as dusk descends. Although these paintings are non-objective and without figurative elements—they are not minimalist, as she adds layers of encaustic, Kerwin loads on stimulants to meaning. These are surfaces to dream on….
Innermost Beat, 20 x 40â&#x20AC;?, Ferguson Collection, 2001
Modern Painters, “art angelenos” Abstraction As Architecture Free form cloying commentary or historical delusions, abstract painting in Los Angeles celebrates the beauty of structure.
BARBARA KERWIN Barbara Kerwin uses a grid structure as her point of departure, cracking that rigidity with a symphony of encaustic-coated, individually-painted surfaces. Something like a visual counterpart to the music, say, of Miles Davis—free-form improvisation over delineated time sequences and melodic, structured choruses—Kerwin’s humanizing of the gridded architecture of a painting is not a new strategy; but the beauty she achieves trumps clever innovation. -- Mat Gleason, April 2003
Tainted Love Farnum Collection, 1999, 40 x 60
Everybody Wants to Rule the World 20 x 20; Paul Allen Collection. 1999
I Know Where I’m Going Udi and Erfath Itzhayek Collection, Israel Oil in wax, 37 x 37”
The Los Angeles Times NUMBER ONE THING TO DO IN L.A., “The Grid”,
an exhibition of paintings by BARBARA KERWIN, opens Saturday at Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Broadway Gallery Complex, Santa Monica...Through April 12, (1997) –Sandy Segal, Feb 28, 1997
Coagula Art Journal Barbara Kerwin’s installation, The Grid
[also] emphasized incongruities within geomethric structure, but poetically placed an emphasis on the beauty of unresolved tensions: of physical presences (inherently organic) within structured spaces; of visceral masculinity confronted with emotive femininity; with fleshtone colors eerily alive, pink and healthy, but just as squeamishly, uhh..., boxed! Finding a rhythm among these relationships seemed Kerwin’s strong suit. Normally vapid formal associations of depth and texture within the framework of perfect squares here subtlely resonated the fate of flesh and blood on a time structure. Her organic compositons were presented within the classic geometric lexicon heretofore reserved for critical arguments about formal relationships and hierarchies of order. The incongruous slips to mere irony as it strides towards the obvious. Kerwin realizes that maintaining poise and subtlety are what keeps her approach to re-conceiving the Modernist grid so very interesting. ---Mat Gleason No. 27.”SAM DURANT AND BARBARA KERWIN, THE GRID”, May, 1997.
Large Quarters, 72 x 60, Levitt Collection, 1997
Lightening Choplin Collection, Paris 48” x 48”, 1998
“Rilke, Strangely Concerns Me” Schoenberg Collection 48 x 48” Oil in Wax over septic papers 1997 38
Together, (2 panels) 15 x 70â&#x20AC;?, 1997
THESE PAINTERS HAPPEN TO BE WOMEN “Called one of the seven best painters in Los Angeles by a prominent critic, Barbara Kerwin is seeking to do nothing less than to un-define and redefine that which we call ”painting.” Traditionally, “painting” is thought of as a thing, an object, an end product, but this artist has replaced “painting” from the end to the beginning. Her work is always a conceptual meditation upon how to communicate ideas through art and part of her thought process is to re-think the traditional forms of art: why must a painting hang passively on a wall? Why can’t it be a form in itself and be placed, actively situating itself in space? And in an even more disrupting disturbance of the sacred space of the gallery, why can’t a work of art be touched and caressed like a human being? As if they were human, these paintings have backs and fronts and can be removed from their brackets and turned over, recto to verso. Like Edwards, Kerwin is concerned with the body, but her body is that of each painting that she brings into being as a shaped and skinned object through a slow process of building up layers of gel. Placed lower than eye level, Kerwin’s soberly colored paintings are tensely and tenderly physical but were made in a mental state that was almost trance-like in periods of mourning and in times of fulfillment, conveying honest and open feelings to the receptive viewer. Built and constructed, the paintings become contaniers of the artist’s thoughts and invitations to the viewer to violate museum taboos to touch, to feel and to handle. Shift the weight, smell the smell, experience the textures, see the colors, feel the wounds and trace the healing.” J.S.M. Willette
Barbara Kerwinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s interest in structure has been a deep part of her drawing and painting investigation since her earliest works. Above are samples of figurative drawings that use negative space as a compositional element, leading the eye to de-emphasis the object and consider the relationships and organization of line, shapes and colors as a path to abstraction.
Nest, Installation, 1994 Various building materials Claremont Graduate University Garrison Theater, Claremont (Back cover: The Artist in Italy Photo credit: Jennifer Kerwin)