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Exhibition Mailer


The Mixing of Movements An Investigation into the Work of David Trowbridge by M. Austin Haight Having grown up and studied in the Midwest, David Trowbridge did not experience Los Angeles, or at least California for that matter, until he enrolled at Fresno State (‘67-’69), and then subsequently moved to Santa Monica after graduation to teach at University of California Santa Barbara in the 1970s. But what about Trowbridge’s background served to be an influence in the formulation of his work? Iowa in my mind brings forth an image of the famed Printmaking and Book Arts program of University of Iowa and of course AmericanGothic,GrantWood’siconic portrait that spawned Regionalism. Trowbridge was certainly no pasticheur of Wood’s pictorialization of a Romantic, if anything, version of Down-Home America just because he hailed from farms of the Midwest and was a member of 4H. Instead of rationalizing on his more distant relations in regard to artistic practice, his background, in terms of the moment Trowbridge entered concerning Los Angeles art, should be further analyzed in order to find a more resounding voice traveling through the product of Trowbridge’s practice. California at the time was in the backwash of the rise of Surfing and Hot Rods in the ‘50s, the Postwar

and still brewing element of the San Franciscan ‘60s and the elemental Palais de Justice Hollywood had imposed on the pop-culture of the area since the advent of Movie Stardom, which en masse can be said to be the all equivocal propagative implications surrounding the precursors to Los Angeles’ current back break with Post-Modernistic Low Brow Folly; that is to say, much can be afforded to take into account the variables that served as the seeds of LA Minimalism vs. NY Minimalism, Light & Space, the fetish for finish, Pattern & Decoration and Hard Edge painting. When discussing an artist of the era one typically sticks to one movement, yet I find that David Trowbridge’s work is able to breach categorical stability. In many ways, a Pluralist definition of David Trowbridge’s work can be discerned, more so contrived, by picking and choosing specific elements from the aforementioned movements within Trowbridge’s formative and emerging years as an artist. Then suddenly, the disgustingly banal analogy of one visiting a salad bar of “Artistic Repartee and Ramifications” in order to build d’une salade de Trowbridge ensues with all the definitive ingredients constructed and compartmentalized.


Hiquet 1973 63” X 75”


Installation 1973


However, this essay will not continue in such a manner. Rather it should continue to appropriate directives for Trowbridge’s work. Glancing back to LA from where LA is today, there certainly is a muddying by which LA, once a city fueled on ‘Pure Form’ and a ‘clean bill of health’ in terms of Aesthetic Tangibility (surface-wise), now has turned into another culinary and oblique reference: too many cooks are putting too many spices into their respective pot in their respective shared location of a kitchen called LA. But shall it not be called nor portrayed as a Kistchden. A non sequitur of sorts, no? Pay no mind then. Moving on, there was the follow up to this austere deflection of subject matter, that is, while this is no means a call, a manifesto of a NeoGreenbergian Revolt (People are already all “going Green” out here) in to an re-

Installation 1973

purification of Art (imagine one giant PUR Pitcher but for overeducated present tense MFA Art instead of LA Water [the tap water not the cocktail]). This essay simply is written not to necessarily serve, rather implicate an example through a now passed artist, as an assumption, evolutionarily speaking, concerning how one artist may have been at the forefront

of this massive integration of genres that LA, most importantly, has been a part of since the late ‘60s early ‘70s. In essence,theworkofDavidTrowbridge’s successiveshowsatCirrusGalleryin‘71, ‘73, and ‘75 had the will to evoke, not a passive mixture of media, but a mixture of movements. Continuing on with the discussion by explaining Trowbridge’s earlier works, the ‘71 Cirrus show for David was a boon for his future movements in his work as well as his showings in Italy and Switzerland, to name a few of his European exploits. Suffice to say, his list of exhibitions was not as commandingly lengthy as those of some of his friends and contemporaries, yet his own movement was still there even if not entirely documented on such a scale as said contemporaries. But such is the piercing scope of the Art Historical Lens (lest it become the Magnifying Glass of Jay McCafferty, we may all subsequently become a conflagration). Following his stay in Hawaii as a teacher, a developmental journey of sorts afforded to him by Jean Milant, Trowbridge grew beyond the historically heroic task of paintbrush to canvas and instead saw the Plexiglass being re-imagined through the likes of Craig Kauffman’s work. Trowbridge’s work with plexiglass though, his were different and differentiating investigations. In many of his show cards and from the writings of Trowbridge’s contemporary critics, his works were labeled as paintings and even drawings, with such labels serving as a lacking explanation in terms of his work. One such critic, a writer by the name of Elena Karina Canavier, described Trowbridge’s ‘73 show as paintings and drawings which were “analogous to musical compositions,” similar to “photographic transparencies”. She also opines the pieces resemblances to blood work on


UE 1973 24” X 20”


Ro-Lang 1972 75” X 75”

slides with the “special dexterity that lab technicians have” and while Trowbridge has just that, dexterity, the reference to blood and lab work should certainly be updated to refer to the gridded works as colorful interpretations of genetic maps. But “transparency” certainly is the word to procure more of an image of Trowbridge’s large scale works which, on the plexiglass, are merely mediators to the paint, which, with the painted side turned away from the viewer, hang the paint less than an inch away from the wall. This hidden face off between wall and painting is where the projected light

on his larger paintings reflects back and forth to further the painting onto the wall, which in effect, causes a subtle glow and a voracious melding flow of light, a nod of the hat to the evocative flows of paint on the plexiglass surface seen when viewed up close. As for the musical references, one may see the gridded patterns as speaking to the rhythms of music appropriated as colors to be read from left to right, as the visual experience is decoded as sound within the skull. Another critic goes further to make stretches as to the resemblance of


Trowbridge’s work in comparison to other artists; somehow there is a farfetched mention of Peter Alexander from the Light & Space Movement, and then a reference to the Geometrist Ron Davis, which draws an ellipsis from my mouth and the nod to Allan McCollum even more so. Regarding these connections, the bending of thoughts to connect such work together would be entirely ridiculous to print on this page. However, one can admit that there is, most literally, the use of light and space evident in the work of Trowbridge. And what else? That damaged “Salad Bar” analogy returns and we are forced to peruse. Taking a look at what is down there below the glass of the sneeze guard we find Hard Edge and Pattern & Decoration. A hard sell if put on the plate. Well, let us see if we have to look closer still… Taking into consideration the grid-work evident in his ‘71 show and moving further down the timeline, it can be noticed that the grid partitioning the field of Trowbridge’s early work diminishes, over time becoming less of a conservative edge within which to contain his markmaking. Certainly the paint is not all over the place, but outside the edges, spilling just enough to sublimate a nuance in regard to escaped containment. This mingling of color takes the patchwork quality of some of his works to a different visual level of integration among the grid’s containers. John Miller, a Hard Edge painter and friend of Trowbridge’s, tells me that, although he admired the color work of Trowbridge’s paintings in primary colors (‘73 show), he was put off by the Finish Fetish the plexiglass pieces seemed to exemplify. According to Miller, after a conversation between the two, Trowbridge began painting more often on canvas, which, through this conversation, produced the work on display in Trowbridge’s ‘75 show at Cirrus. Of course the work in the ‘75 show was far from Hard Edge but did

elicit patterns vaguely interpreting a hard edge of structure. These patterns, not to be considered those designed for fabric, were those of movement and memorization. Specifically, the pieces from the ‘75 show that serve as an example of such are the all white pieces, which contrast with the all black pieces of the same show–which from my perspective confer onto their expressive and painterly execution as thinly veiled (in thickness of paint and technique) as Trowbridge’s own conclusions drawn on another contemporary, James Hayward. Now in terms of the all white paintings, Trowbridge’s previous use of surface and light is turned on its head. Here texture is what negotiates the light across the surface. Gone is the fetish for finish, in Miller’s honor, and instead of thin lacquer applied with spray gun (like in ‘71), Trowbridge educes the build up of acrylic paint on the canvas while at the same time digging down through pressure in gestural technique. While these paintings exhibit a bravura of the negotiations of paint on surface , there are still words against Pollockian Action Painting and the documentation of movement to suffice. Rather, these paintings, arranged in grid form serve as a movement of memory and muscle, such that, when viewed from a distance, the pieces appear to have been made by a stamp or even a robot–by the pure similarity and order of the repeated painterly movement. This type of mark-making, where every gesture is memorized, can be seen as conservative and almost dogmatic in the sense that within each painting the context of the whole can only be the divided parts. Another may say that these pieces are magnifications of just the shortest element of a Cy Twombly piece then repeated over and over again as some sort of repetitive harking to Warhol’s production values. So much in the way of the gestalt in Trowbridge’s ‘71 show, these white paintings portray a formal decision making which serves


as a staid vein in Trowbridge’s practice. Despite Trowbridge’s utilization of a grid for painting, these surely are not Karl Benjamin’s Hard Edge (a reference as oblique as the aforementioned critic’s references to Ron Davis), but they comment on the conservative nature of Hard Edge in the boundaries set forth by the grid. However, one could always falter on assumptions to say that Trowbridge’s fast and loose with the grid as a parlance equivalent to his own disparate personality (much like his disparate materials?). That is to say, any individual described by friends and acquaintances as “complex and smart” is going to devise their own ways around preset boundaries. And like the boundaries of a genre or a medium, Trowbridge does, in certain respects to his mixing of such, bend the rules in his favor. There was a grand proliferation of movements during the ‘60s and ‘70s of which Trowbridge’s work can be seen as an amalgam of several of them. His use of projected light to enliven his large works on plexiglass and the images that bounce back on the wall behind said paintings takes us to a literal reading of his paintings as overlapping into the realm of Light & Space. But how much can Hard Edge be applied if the grid he functioned, as a sort of prelude to patterning in his early work, only mitigated in to a dissolved confluence of repetition in movement? Contrary to how the paintings were turned paint to wall, how much can be said of his earlier works being derived from Finish Fetish? After all, the Surfboard Craftsmen and slick paint of Californian Hot Rods can only lend so much to a window of plexiglass concealing pools of lacquer on the other side. This must be the essence of Trowbridge’s ethic in art, the Venn Diagram of sorts that affords an explication of his amalgamated work allows for such things as his drawings

or paintings to spread only so far into the realms of Light & Space, Hard Edge and Finish Fetish, and do so in varying degrees, sometimes with pinpoint accuracy (there’s McCafferty’sMagnifyingGlassoncemore). And to pinpoint Trowbridge amongst the artists of his time that he was friends and who he worked with is to see him really as an undercurrent to the eventual mixing and matching of genres, the prelude to what is now to many a confusion of if we are even Past Post Modernist. Regretfully, these experiments of Trowbridge were not to grow any further as the ‘70s passed into the ‘80s. While his work from later in his career, simplistically decorative and stylistically coded as private interpretations of the Psalms, is by far not as well documented as his early work, one can almost say that he choose to have his career to be truncated in such a way that he was not another artist whose work became another indoctrinating element of another group of future art students. Truth be told, the silence that flows through Trowbridge’s work–from the thin and at times soft color, the stillness of the sprayed paint from his early technique, the quiet posture of his gestural works that only hint at the words “here I am”, the mum codification of his grids and even the minimalist structure of his later works, which, in terms of Walnut enjambed against Oil on Linen, speak nothing aloud, perhaps only gently provoking the ambience of a forest within one’s brain. So instead of a place marker on to the next step in Art History, may Trowbridge be only a flash of insight from the undercurrent, a flash of insight into the way in which genres can be integrated and used alongside one another. And in terms of the voice that resounded through Trowbridge’s work along the timeline of his practice, it can be said that if this voice resounded, its sound was nothing more than the light reflecting between wall and painted plexiglass until dissipating into Psalmic silence.


Untitled 1973 24” X 20”

Untitled 1973 24” X 20”


Untitled 1973 50” X 63”

Yachu 1973 63” X 75”


Copyright Cirrus Gallery Š 2011


David Trowbridge 1973  

Exhibition Catalog for David Trowbridge's 1973 Solo show at Cirrus Gallery. With a catalog essay by Michael Haight.

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