Southern California Abstraction Now 2015

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Artists Peter Alexander Hilary Baker Larry Bell Jack Chipman John Eden Sam Erenberg Sheldon Figoten Betsy Lohrer Hall Charles Christopher Hill Linda King Lies Kraal David Mackenzie Robin Mitchell Maggie Lowe Tennesen

Curated by Jack Chipman and Sheldon Figoten Gallery Director, Marian Winsryg Gallery Assistant, Brennan Wheeler Santa Monica College • Performing Arts Center Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery 1310 1 1th Street Santa Monica CA • 90401 • 310 434-3434

A PERSISTENT PRACTICE Jack Chipman Compared with the encyclopedic history of art, abstraction is a short story. As a formal practice, abstraction had its beginnings in the early years of the 20th Century across the Atlantic in Europe and farther east in Russia. It began to engage the American public when Abstract Expressionism rose to prominence in New York following World War II. This event also established New York as the undisputed center of modern art. Along with the hegemony came numerous variations and offshoots of Abstract Expressionism as well as reactions to it worldwide. In Los Angeles, adherents began to emerge in the 1950s, with many notable abstract styles taking root since then, including hard-edge, finish fetish, light & space, minimalism and post-minimalism. A number of the Southern California artists represented in this exhibition emerged in the post-minimal period, which proved to be the beginning of the end of New York’s domination of the art world. Some pushed the boundaries of the painting tradition during the 1970s in a significant and noteworthy development that has yet to be named or fully explored. The breakout work Charles Christopher Hill produced at the time is an excellent example, and his latest series may signal a revisiting of that groundbreaking process-driven oeuvre. Another artist who emerged during this period of intense experimentation is David Mackenzie. His early paintings were also the result of an unorthodox process and his current work is clearly a distillation and refinement of that seminal output. All of the included artists are staunch advocates of abstraction regardless of outlook or frame of reference. They are mid-career now with individual paths and a persistent practice characterized by personalized strategy and method. This dedication is a crucial factor in setting their work apart. Many have maintained friendships over the years as their personal styles underwent change and matured. Success in today’s competitive art world can be challenging and elusive for a variety of reasons and good friends provide the necessary support to stay focused. As curators, Sheldon Figoten and I chose people that we respect. We believe their work offers diversity as well as compatibility and provides a cross-section of the abstract art being made in Southern California now. Many of the participants merit greater recognition for their dedication and perseverance. Most of them are painters and color, either bold or subtle, is a common element and unifying factor. Some of the paintings in the show are uncluttered, having been reduced to a monochromatic format or an arrangement of two and three potent colors. The work of Lies Kraal is a quintessential example. She makes the most of a reductive vocabulary featuring impeccably painted monochromes, some having subtle subdivisions. Sam Erenberg is another purveyor of subtlety, with his large expanses of dappled pointillism that bring to mind telescopic views of the distant heavens. Like many abstract painters, Hilary Baker takes cues from the world around her. She transforms landmarks familiar to her through a process of simplification and augmentation until a unique vision combining numerous colors, patterns and textures appears. Betsy Lohrer Hall and Robin Mitchell use the medium of gouache to produce similarly energetic and colorful compositions on paper. Natural processes inspire Hall and her paintings reflect her way of thinking about natural design. Imagery is arrived at by literally painting between the lines, with the color blocked in meticulously over several sessions until a network of white outlines are defined and the composition

is revealed. Mitchel’s two paintings in the show are closely allied in structure but opposite in tonality and mood. Each contains two tiny orange discs that are positioned one above the other. One set of discs radiates dark energy while the other two radiate bursts of light. The viewer is left to ponder the implications of this intriguing pairing. John Eden also employs discs but his are much larger and result from a process and attention to detail reminiscent of the Finish Fetish movement of the 1960s. His roundels, that hover somewhere between painting and sculpture, are derived from the aviation insignia that identify military aircraft of various countries, but not knowing this in no way diminishes their potent presence. Automotive paint with metal flakes in high gloss suspension give these singular geometric objects a sparkle and sheen that draws the viewer in. Maggie Lowe Tennesen also favors the geometric. Her stunning rectilinear paintings are arrived at through a mysterious and labor-intensive method that inspires curiosity and awe. The end result is hard to describe but in essence consists of a layering of rectangles of various color and texture partly obscured by an overlying pattern of vertical and precisely delineated lines. Sheldon Figoten has always been a superb colorist and a person unafraid to experiment with new paints and combinations. He tends to favor asymmetry and the deliberate bending of the physical confines of a painting. In addition, his process includes the application of tiny glass beads to the painted surface, which adds luminosity to already vibrant colors and spare compositions. Linda King employs more than one tactic in her work. Her process begins with poured and manipulated paint that is luscious and layered. Superimposed on this colorful field is a unique, elaborate and painstakingly painted pattern that frames and gives structure to each individual painting. My own work employs a similar tactic wherein hard-edged geometric shapes contrast with poured pigments. As a whole, these artists are engaged in a love affair with paint and its boundless potential for expression. They make something beautiful, powerful, and mysterious from essentially simple elements. There are only two artists in the show with work that is not wall-oriented and they are the most acclaimed, even legendary. Peter Alexander and Larry Bell, working separately, are extending a practice derived from industrial process and peculiar to Los Angeles (the LA look) of fabricating and suffusing simple transparent forms of various shape and size with luminous color. Alexander, revisiting the resin work he is best known for, is producing modestly scaled color-infused blocks and other lucid shapes. In addition, he is making faceted rails of tinted resin that lean against walls. Bell is punctuating a long and distinguished career dealing with the properties of light with new works known as light knots. Fabricated from delicate sheets of transparent Mylar that he coats with a subtle metallic film, these ethereal objects hang from the ceiling or are suspended in clear Plexiglas boxes. It wasn’t that long ago that art pundits were saying that painting, and especially abstract art, had reached a dead end with no observable vital signs. What both Sheldon Figoten and I have noted and been a part of is the robust resurgence of abstraction here. In Southern California Abstraction Now, we have brought a group of artists together whose talent and skill have contributed to this revitalization.

Figoten, Bell, Eden & Alexander

Chipman & Mitchell

Erenberg, Hall, Bell & Hill

Kraal, Tennesen, Bell & King

Hill, Bell, Figoten, Eden & Kraal

Mackenzie & Baker

Peter Alexander 6/18/15 (Green Leaner) Urethane 94 x 4 Âź x 2 Âź inches 2015


Polyester 7 x 8 5/8 x 8 5/8 inches 2009

Hilary Baker Arlington Avenue

from the Bones of the City Series Acrylic on canvas 40 x 36 inches 2014


from the Bones of the City Series Acrylic on canvas 40 x 36 inches 2015

Larry Bell 3D VD 1/30/15 E

7mm polyester film coated with aluminum & silicon monoxide in Optium box 36 x 16 x 16 inches 2015

3D VD 1/30/15 C

7mm polyester film coated with aluminum & silicon monoxide in Optium box 36 x 16 x 16 inches 2015

Jack Chipman ROOTS C-44 (GHOSTS) Acrylic on canvas 38 x 28 inches 2013

ROOTS C-41 (THE WEDGE) Acrylic on canvas 18 x 24 inches 2012

John Eden

El Salvador 1922 Onward (Fuselage & Wing) From the Roundel (Military Aircraft Insignias) Series Automobile Metal Flake Paint on a fiberglass disc 22.75 x 22.75 x 6 inches 2013

Austria/Germany 1918 (Fuselage & Wing) From the Roundel (Military Aircraft Insignias) Series Automobile Metal Flake Paint on a fiberglass disc 22.75 x 22.75 x 6 inches 2013

Spain 1918-1931 (Fuselage & Wing)

From the Roundel (Military Aircraft Insignias) Series Automobile Metal Flake Paint on a fiberglass disc 46 x 46 x 12 inches 2013

Sam Erenberg Boketto No. 24 Acrylic on canvas 72 x 62 inches 2014

Sheldon Figoten 1/21/14

Polymer emulsion/glass beads/canvas 32 x 30 inches 2014

1/27/15 (A)

Polymer emulsion/glass beads/canvas 74 x 71 x 54 inches 2015

Betsy Lohrer Hall The Gift

Gouache on Stonehenge 55 x 27 inches (framed) 2015


Gouache on BFK Rives 26 x 28 Âź inches (framed) 2014

Charles Christopher Hill Various and Sundry Camels Acrylic & paper on canvas 48 x 48 inches 2015

Linda King Nebula

Acrylic on canvas 60 x 72 inches 2015

Lies Kraal 04-2 (Ferrari diptych)

Acrylic on hardboard panels 23 x 23 inches 2004 Untitled 15-01 Acrylic on incised hardboard panel 23 x 23 inches 2015

David Mackenzie #1-2015-JT11

Acrylic on engineered canvas 30 x 30 inches 2015


Acrylic on engineered canvas 24 x 20 inches 2014

Robin Mitchell Gullible

Gouache on paper 24 x 18 inches (image size) 2012


Gouache on paper 24 x 18 inches (image size) 2012

Maggie Lowe Tennesen Eternal Dialogues Acrylic on Canvas 48 x 48 inches 2015

Peter Alexander

“I’m a romantic, and I believed in it. I believed in the value of things. I believe that objects can be made that can have an extraordinary effect on me and others.”

Hilary Baker

Arlington Avenue and Fairfax are from my Bones of the City series. The old apartment buildings and hotels recalled from my childhood are nowhere to be seen, and those that remain are often slated for the wrecking ball. These paintings serve as visual signposts to a landscape vaguely recalled, or no longer extant. As neighborhoods change through neglect, destruction or development, the paintings stand as souvenirs of a world systematically being erased.

Larry Bell

“The first one I did was such a revelation to me, that I could hardly talk. Here I had been making these components for the collages for years, but it never occurred to me that they had more potential than just what I was using them for… All of a sudden, the work presented another aspect of itself… and it was redemption of all things new again. I got a chill running up my back. That’s a great feeling.”

Jack Chipman

My recent paintings are the result of adaptations and refinements of earlier work. As an exhibiting artist, I have assimilated ideas and influences over a long practice. Naturally, what an individual artist does is shaped by what has already been done. I admire the work of many past and present day painters and especially those currently working in Los Angeles. These influences may be seen in my latest series titled Roots. Ultimately, the roots of this series reach all the way back to the painting experiments of my youth. Flow, the painterly process a group of LA artists has been occupied with, balances the spontaneous with the deliberate, with the former tactic typically dominant. In my case, the unpredictability of free-flowing paint is combined with precise geometry as I have long favored the integration of one form of paint application with another. At best, this integration adds a sense of dynamism to the work but color remains the dominant attribute with hues ranging from the vibrant to the muted and restrained. I rarely use pure paint colors, opting instead to “invent” new ones. One hallmark of the flow movement is a minimizing of the time-honored painter’s stroke. Much of the work is performed at a physical and emotional distance from the surface, be it canvas or paper, but the end result of “going with the flow” (letting go) is often stunning. An unexpected source of inspiration for the new work is the California ceramics that became a source of interest and income early in my career. The complex flow of glazes and subtle color variations on the many pots I have come in contact with over the years have undeniably made an impression.

John Eden

In its essence, every creative act is destructive to everything that has gone before, and Barnett Newman’s edifying title; “Not There-Here” aptly exemplifies that thesis. My pieces that have been included in this exhibition make reference to several important art historical events that took place in Europe in the beginning decades of the Twentieth Century, the first being the groundbreaking 1915 “0.10” (or ‘zero point ten’) Russian group exhibition of nonobjective art, which did away with any reference to the physical world. This exhibition was immortalized by an iconic photograph of Kazimir Malevich’s salon-style corner installation, which not only formally activated the space (in many of the same ways Vladimir Tatlin’s corner/wall reliefs did), but also attempted to transform the Russian Icon as religious symbol into a new post-religious nonobjective motif. The second milestone event took place several years later that reflected Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s notion of reducing abstract painting down to its absolute essence by using only primary colors (red, yellow, blue) along with the non-colors of white, black and grey for the pure color theory palette of the De Stijl art movement. As an artist, I have had a life long interest in exploring the boundaries of abstraction; for example, does ‘the crudity of the initial effort’ make Malevich and Mondrian better painters than anyone working as an abstract painter today. Can nonobjective elements used by avant-garde artists a century ago still be considered abstract today or have their imagery been absorbed into the culture as objectified non-abstract motifs? Was a totally nonobjective abstraction ever really achieved, or was it merely an unobtainable goal, more interesting in itself as theoretical intent than actuality? My Roundel (Military Aircraft Insignias) Series is an outgrowth of those questions, as are my experiences as an USAF Airman during the Vietnam era and a continuing fascination with things that appear to be one thing, but is really something quite different. The parabolic disc structure has its origins via Robert Delaunay’s early Twentieth Century circular (“Premier Disque”) form, Vladimir Tatlin’s 1944 theatrical moon discs and not just with the ubiquitous ‘Light and Space’ discs by Robert Irwin. The design elements that I have used in this series denote rote national identifiers that also happen to look absolutely abstract, which runs counter to abstraction’s traditional wisdom of ‘what you see is what you see.’ Today, it seems to me that nothing is what it appears, all content is parsed, all symbols and signs require analyses and yes, the viewer sees it through a complex lens of his or her experiences within the context of our current state of affairs. We live in a very different and nuanced time, a hundred years on, from those heady revolutionary days, and I believe that fact is succinctly reflected by the well-known cautionary phrase: ‘All that glimmers is not gold.’

Sam Erenberg

The Boketto series of paintings (acrylic on canvas, 2013-15) were made by modulating the ground color after applying several layers of gesso to the canvas. I then applied small dots (or spots) of color to the surface of the ground. This process of figure-ground experimentation has been evident in abstract painting since its beginning in the early part of the twentieth century.

Sheldon Figoten

. . . thinking about seeing . . . what you are seeing . . . how you see . . . the looking––calm.

Betsy Lohrer Hall

A small brush traverses the landscape of paper—the traces become a visual record of time passing. Through the accumulation of simple acts, larger transformations take place. I paint the negative space. This allows what is underneath to show through. What appear to be the final touches are often what was painted first, or the untouched paper itself. The history of the painting reveals itself to the attentive eye. The content is directed as much toward hearing and feeling as it is to seeing.

Linda King

My paintings are visually abstract but reference nature, contemporary culture and a sense of time and memory. The paintings are created with layers of poured paint, that are then edited down to an essential form or specific interaction. I combine very fluid movements of paint with hard-edged shapes and flat intense backgrounds, constantly shifting the viewer’s eye until shape becomes negative and space becomes shape. My interests lie with the juxtaposition of boundaries that subvert perception. The pours are multiple colors and different viscosities. The colors are derived from personal experience, what I see, what I react to. Sometimes they reference nature’s colors; algae and moss, a storm coming in, burnt ground, the leaves changing. Other times, the colors are chosen as a visual response to the urban environment, contemporary fashion, billboards and advertisements. Color is a very strong focus of my work. I try to approach color as a means of discovery. This means that sometimes the colors picked are subtle and quiet, and other times very bold and assertive. The pours are one component of creating the painting. The other major aspect is the editing of the pour. When the pour is finished, taken as far as I can go, when it feels complete, I then look to see what is essential for creating a specific mood or visual response. I use vintage ceramic and metal platters as stencils to edit the background and create different shapes. I place the platters down on the areas that I want to save, trace around them and then paint out everything else. The platters relate to plants, nature, and biomorphic forms. Recently, I have also included construction materials, everyday household objects and the flow of the paint and drips to dictate the separation of forms and background. This last year of painting has developed into a series that I ironically call “The Dining Room Series”. The pours relate to epic, romantic land/sky scapes, similar to Turner or the Baroque Period. The border acts as an ornate frame and the background refers to wall paper. The “wall paper” ranges from Victorian pattern to Sci-fi retro images. I am interested in juxtaposing the “idea” of romantic landscape with a more contemporary setting, exploring concepts of beauty, perception and cultural relationships.

Lies Kraal

Monochrome painting may seem one-dimensional to some, but to others it’s the most complex...a condensation of ideas and feelings. Everything is relative because it is constantly interacting with everything else, so the simplest perception is relevant to the moment. In my mind, that makes everything important and I want my paintings to reflect that idea. I like people to be able to feel my paintings (without touching them…) L K “Soon people will speak of silence as they do of a fairy tale. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life: contemplation, meditation.” Jean Arp

David Mackenzie

Perspective and Conceptual Construction My work is a mediation between fractured and deconstructed perspectives and the concrete. Perspective is a system of representation that mimics visual perception in a real world setting. I learned the principles of perspective at an early age from my grandfather. To my young mind it was a very strange experience drawing an image using that method. I remember one drawing, a house in three point perspective situated in a landscape any child could have created. This odd juxtaposition of images that I had produced was unfamiliar and new to my awareness. Somehow that experience awakened in me a curiosity about art and visual thinking. I still work with that same curiosity but I now know more about less. Early on in my painting evolution I introduced the concept of figure ground relationships. I knew I didn’t want to have a shape just sit on top of a surface nor did I want to use historical solutions to the problem. I was looking for new ways to integrate these spaces. In perspective you draw lines between foreground and background and thats what I did. However in this case I was literally drawing those lines between two spacial layers, my painting being made up of layers. The introduction of these lines created a new and different kind of space and physicality. A conceptual construction was born revealing invisible lines and creating tension between elements. This tension being of utmost importance to my work. You will notice raised lines on the surface of my paintings. This is the “engineered canvas” description listed under my title. Its a process of drawing and attaching cord to canvas and is a direct descendant of work I was doing in the seventies with cast Rhoplex.* *Rhoplex was an early acrylic medium purchased in 55 gallon drums.

Robin Mitchell

My artwork is involved with the act of mark-making and how the mark in its abstract nature is able to communicate and transcend to evoke both the tangible and the ineffable. The paintings are multi-layered compositions of marks, gestures, and brushstrokes that are both literal and referential to the natural world. The imagery of my paintings has grown through the development of a personal painterly vocabulary. I do not subscribe to a hierarchy of large paintings over small, or paintings on canvas over paintings on paper, but I work in a whole range of sizes and materials. Gouache paint is excellent for color mixing and affords me certain qualities that are most appropriate for what I am trying to communicate in my paintings. I often work in pairs, each painting unique, but they are related and engaged in dialogue.

Maggie Lowe Tennesen

My work derives its imagery from the accumulation of strands or veins that recall the weft and warp of existence. Time and space and color are part of the material of this fabric. These paintings grew from previous work, which articulated aerial images of urban grids and windows of meditation. The desert landscape has worked itself into the imagery. Stratified rocks I see near Joshua Tree National Park have replaced the urban settings. The newer work is based on the powerful forces that have built this landscape, its layers and layers created over vast periods of time by rock and sand and places worn by desert flash floods and elsewhere jumbled by earthquake faults. The dense population of lines in my work reflects an inner environment as well. Waves emerge in heaped-up strings of consciousness, form, feelings, habits, and thoughts. Muscles, bones, energies, emotions and color are also present. They seemingly arise from nowhere, come into being, gaining mass and momentum, and, then, dissipate. They accumulate, gather and strengthen, bit by bit to form energy waves or particles. The imagery is inspired by meditative practice and the natural environment and these influences have coalesced in profound ways.