Katherine Porter: Brilliance of Spontaneity Untamed Digital Catalog

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Brilliance of Spontaneity

Brilliance of Spontaneity Untamed

Over a remarkably distinguished career that spans nearly six decades and with work in the permanent collections of more than forty important national and international museums, Katherine Porter stands as one of the great women of American Abstract Painting. She has produced bodies of work that demonstrate a diverse visual vocabulary consistently distinguished by their powerful sense of expressive authenticity and an enduring resolve that art should inherently maintain an integrative unity consistent with an artist’s aesthetic, social, political, and personal concerns. And above all, she makes great art.

Katherine Porter’s oeuvre, with its protean aspect of unending varieties of compositions, colors, lines, shapes, and forms, has been described as “the vast domain of spontaneity untamed.”* This, of course, is a supremely auspicious reverence extended to an abstract painter who has maintained, over a career of so many decades, the steadfast pursuit of a principled and individualistic artistic direction, irrespective of conflicting art world fashions.

Layer on top of that accolade, from the same source, the additional coda that Porter’s extraordinary spontaneity and expressive volition is “tempered, subjected to rational control by a supreme act of self-critical concentration,” and you have, truly, a veritable artworld paradox: a rare virtuoso of creative freedom blended with technical discipline that, in its unlikely combination, begins to explain her remarkable brilliance.

Works included in this current exhibition are primarily from the last twenty-six years and make abundantly clear Porter’s suburb capacity to bring powerful compositions and rich colorations to her canvases. Numerous of these works could easily hang side by side with those of Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, or Willem de Kooning as examples of first tier Abstract Expressionist painting. If ever an artist has devoted her heart and soul to a resolute pursuit

of aesthetic introspection in the context of the flux and tensions that confront the world, it would seem that Katherine Porter is her. In the veritable visual cacophony of energetic line, swirls, circles, and all manner of geometric forms that enthuse over the agitated surfaces of her canvases, there is the aesthetic manifestation of a remarkable and deeply passionate interplay of heart and mind. The images that result seem like they might have exploded out of internal combustion from the intensity of this generative process.

There is a feeling of profound imperative that these paintings must be made and from it an alluringly seductive beauty that is seldom sensed in art. Nothing about her work feels tentative. They feel resolute and like icons to the sanctity of emotional rectitude in aesthetics. Here is the brilliance of “spontaneity untamed” tempered by “self-critical concentration” at work.

Gazing at Porter’s dazzling array of works in this exhibition, one is also left to wonder about the secrets of this extraordinary process and how such a magnificent torrent of kinetic gesture and primal ecstasy could happen, and the ways that it must connect with some aspect of the artist’s inner being. Her making of drawn forms and marks in her painting brings forward the presence of her hand in these canvases and perhaps suggests part of the impetus.

Rather than merely large fields of monochromatic color that might be easy to see as anonymous, Porter’s use of drawn marks in her paint can be seen to evidence a singular sense of executancy. In the profusion of gesture and fascinating geometries that she inscribes into the paint and over the surface of many of these canvases, there is a palpable sense of language - uncoded but quite real – a language with which Porter can be viewed to make herself present in her work. The language has a remarkable vitality to it, a joyful, hopeful inflection that coalesces from the flux of elements in her compositions and the exuberance of color that grace her canvases.

1613 Paseo de Peralta I Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 I 505.988.3250 I lewallengalleries.com I contact@lewallengalleries.com Cover: Katherine Porter, Circle, 2020, Oil on canvas, 66 x 48 in

In this regard, her painted surfaces become like visual communiques, not just accumulations of pigment but rather expressions of an interior self. Some of these marks might be read as reminiscent of parietal symbols found etched into cave walls like those thought to have shamanic significance in prehistoric societies. But unlike those symbols, here the marks seem more of an unpremeditated form of expression, a way of asserting presence without specificity of content. And, remarkably, Porter covers nearly every square inch of her canvases with substance that rewards the eye’s scanning of surface in rather equal measure. Quite extraordinary.

From that realm of passionate interplay of heart and mind, these paintings appear to emerge like iterative visceral declarations of beauty that come from a deeply personal place of intuition and conscience. And hung on the wall, those visual communiques, phrased as they are in sumptuous hues and tones, seem to have a certain exultant accent to them. Beyond all else, the movement and rhythm of colors, marks and symbols that Porter uses on her surfaces provide in her paintings a pleasure that will sustain and endure across time.

Indeed, when one studies a Porter painting for a long period and ponders the alluring concentricity of circular forms, for example, that often appears in her work, there gradually emerges from the surface intensity what is perhaps an unexpected comforting sense as the eye begins to want to see more of the intricate details. It is as though from the looking one starts to decern the decoding of a hidden cosmological map that somehow Porter is revealing within the turbulence of her paintings, like the sudden sense of a celestial calm (though never still) in the quiet passages of, say, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Out of dazzling and colorful orchestration there emerges a humming resolution with the energy in the work and a visceral connection with its charisma. Here is the life-energy in Porter’s works and the utter room-filling beauty her paintings will continuously radiate.

The legendary art critic of The New York Times and The Sunday Times of London, John Russell, in a review of Porter’s work for the former, admiringly described the physicality of her work as “juicy” and lauded her “determined way of painting.” It is precisely this sense of “determination” that one might say is among the characteristics that most clearly distinguishes her work and qualifies it as one of the leading bodies of mid and late 20th to current 21st century color abstraction.

There is no mistaking the tenacity of the powerful strokes of color applied in many of these lush paintings as though inflections of resolute fervency delivered across the canvas. They are uniquely those of Katherine Porter. And for any critic who writes about art, the challenge is always to turn words into the magic of the experience of the art. Russell’s use of the word “juicy” is skillful alchemy to evoke the lusciousness these qualities confer to Porter’s paintings.

Just as singular is the sense of resolute “determination” throughout the combinations of colors, geometries and symbols Porter uses to comprise her compositions: circles, triangles, rectangles, squares interposed with lines, spirals, arcs, scaffolds, matrices all of which coalesce on her surfaces to emanate an unmistakable aura of spirited force and generative energy. These elements combine to produce a charismatic beauty that emanates from their complex authenticity, here an entropic, sometimes cacophonous synergy of disparate visual elements that unequivocally resonate the vitality of direct artistic feeling. These characteristics are Porter’s signature ones that make the works in this exhibition “unmistakably Katherine Porter,” and, like any great work of art, will enable them to be recognized by a viewer as hers a hundred years from now from a distance across the room on a museum wall. Indeed, that’s the brilliance of “untamed spontaneity”. indeed, that’s “juicy” painting!

* Lydia Csato Gasman (1925 – 2010), art historian, known for groundbreaking scholarship on Picasso, taught in the art department at the University of Virginia, quoted from “Paintings of Passion, Space, Decision and Care,” in Noon Knives, Hard Press Editions, 2002.

18 x 18 in

1, 2014 Oil on panel

Begin Again, 2016

Oil on canvas

41.75 x 38 in

Begin Again, 2019 -2020

Oil on canvas

66 x 50 in

Cat, 2019-2020

Oil on canvas

62 x 50 in

Cathedral Arcs, 1985

Oil on linen

69.5 x 58.25 in

Circle, 2020 Oil on canvas 66 x 48 in

72 x 52 in

Collide, 2019 Oil on canvas Color Coded, 2000 Oil on canvas 70 x 50 in

63 x 42 in

Cyclamen, 1997 Mixed media on paper Dreaming of Saignon, 2012 Oil on canvas 42 x 38 in

East Port, 2004

Oil on canvas

54 x 44 in

East West, 1998-1999 Oil on Paper 47 x 59.5 in

Equilibrium / Rocks, 2013

Oil on canvas

44 x 44 in

Falling Leaves (Homage to Henri Matisse), 2009 Oil on canvas 75 x 59.75 in

Field, 2017

Oil on canvas

40 x 42 in

Hard Times, 2017 Oil on canvas 42 x 42 in
Hearts of A Wind Blown Flame, 2017 Oil on canvas 38 x 44 in

Kingdom, 1997-98

Mixed media on paper

42.5 x 42.5 in

New Year, 1991

Oil on paper

22.25 x 30 in

Red, 2022 Oil on canvas 48.5 x 66 in
on canvas
x 50 in
on board
x 18 in

Sunset, 2013 - 2014

Oil on canvas

42 x 38 in

Sunset in Maine with Yellow Frame, 2023 Oil on canvas 48 x 42.25 in Three Squares A Day, 2016 - 2017 Oil on canvas 44 x 44
Untitled, 1991 Mixed media on paper 39 x 31.25 in

Mixed media on paper

20.5 x 27.75 in

Untitled, 1977 Venice 1, 2012 Oil on canvas 40 x 40.25 in Vermont Place, 2012 Oil on canvas
42 x 42 in

Walking Around, 2022

Oil on canvas

49 x 42.5 in

What It Is, 2005
70 in
Oil on canvas 64 x
Wheeler's Bay, 2020 Oil on canvas 72 x 50 in

Wheeler's Bay, 2023

Oil on canvas

48 x 42 in

Where Now?, 2009

Oil on canvas

50.25 x 79.25 in

Yellow Lines, 2017 Oil on canvas
42 x 38 in
1613 Paseo de Peralta I Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 I 505.988.3250 I lewallengalleries.com I contact@lewallengalleries.com KATHERINE PORTER MARCH 8 - APRIL 6 | 2024 Brilliance of Spontaneity Untamed
Railyard Arts District | 1613 Paseo de Peralta | Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | 505.988.3250 www.lewallengalleries.com | contact@lewallengalleries.com ©2024 LewAllen Galleries | Artwork ©Katherine Porter
Back Cover: Katherine Porter, Cathedral Arcs, 1985, oil on linen, 69.5 x 58.25 in
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