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MARGE RECTOR FIFTY YEARS OF NON-OBJECTIVE ABSTRACTION


MARGE RECTOR FIFTY YEARS OF NON-OBJECTIVE ABSTRACTION

PATRICIA WATTS


MARGE RECTOR: FIFTY YEARS OF NON-OBJECTIVE ABSTRACTION Patricia Watts

T

he two golden ages of abstraction, 1912 to 1925 and 1947 to 1970, were important art-historical moments that have influenced much of the abstraction we see in paintings today. While these two periods were exceptional, non-objective painting continues to be an essential aesthetic phenomenon that painters resort to during times of uncertainty. When a vision of the future is obscured and yet inspires anticipation, a complex set of human senses is engaged.

MARGE RECTOR: FIFTY YEARS OF NON-OBJECTIVE ABSTRACTION with catalogue essay by Patricia Watts “Fifty Years of Non-Objective Abstraction” © 2016 Patricia Watts Artwork © 2016 and courtesy of the Artist Publication designed by Jasmine Moorhead Printed by Greenerprinter, Point Richmond, CA Artwork photography by Dominic Egan Published by Watts Art Publications wattsartadvisory.com

Even though abstraction is associated with twentiethcentury art, many celebrated artists have worked abstractly throughout the history of art. Even before Kandinsky, Hilma af Klint painted cosmological visions. Victor Vasarely’s interactive optical paintings were followed by Peter Halley’s Neo-Geo Day-Glo abstractions of the 1980s. Artist Marge Rector committed herself to a lifelong practice of abstraction after deciding in the mid-1960s to paint hard-edge geometric forms. For more than fifty years, she has painted hundreds of minimalist geometric and lyrical abstractions, which she executes with an impeccable eye for composition and a hand for detail. Born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1929, Rector was raised primarily in Lubbock, Texas. From an early age she wanted to be an artist. She studied commercial art, which included studio art, at Texas Technological College (Texas Tech University) in Lubbock, graduating in 1950. She then moved to Dallas,

Marge Rector. Lynn, Ruth, Jan with Cats. 1965. Oil on canvas, 40 x 20 inches

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where she worked as commercial artist from 1950 to 1964, at which point made a decision to focus on a fine-art career. Rector took classes at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, including life drawing with Roger Winter and oil painting with Dan Wingren. She also studied life drawing and participated in a studio critique class with Chapman Kelley at Atelier Chapman Kelley, Dallas. Kelley, whom Rector considers to be her mentor, was well known for his exhibit of flower paintings at Janet Nessler Gallery, New York, in 1963. Rector’s 1964 transition to a fine-art career was in the same year Time magazine published the article “Op Art: Pictures That Attack the Eye.” This was the first time the term Op Art was seen in the national media, designating a style of painting that “preys

on the fallibility in vision.”1 It was also a time when optical illusions were often printed in newspapers and magazines as entertaining mind puzzles for a mass audience. However, in her art classes Rector painted still lifes in oil paint of birds, horses, fish, flowers, men, women, and nudes, mostly in earth tones. In 1965 the Museum of Modern Art, New York, featured the eye-teasing Op Art exhibition The Responsive Eye, curated by William C. Seitz. Three years in the making, the exhibition was organized while the movement was in full swing. The same year, after she completed her painting classes, influenced by her background as a commercial artist, Rector immediately adopted a Modernist aesthetic. She then joined the ranks of post-painterly abstractionists who worked by trial and error in isolation from one another, experimenting with visual optics and afterimages.2 Her first black-and-white series, in 1966, entitled Visual Participation, included seven hard-edge optical abstractions incorporating repetitions of circles, lines, dots, and broken half shapes that invited viewers to engage actively with the oscillating figure– ground relationship. At this time she had switched from oil to acrylic paint as her medium because of its smoother texture and faster drying properties. In Rector’s statement she wrote, “From my earliest paintings I have been interested in using the tension between lines and shapes to create different moods and impressions.” This series was one of Rector’s first experiments with perception. It was as if she were channeling Vasarely, who studied at the Budapest Bauhaus School in 1930 and who is considered the father of Op Art; like Rector he worked as a graphic artist in advertising and design.

Dan Wingren. 3-D Mosaic. 1947. Acrylic on board, 24 x 18 inches.

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Another important and successful experiment of Rector’s was her first double-layered and cut-canvas

painting, titled Intruder (1967). The allover blackand-white canvas had a single black hole at the bottom right, revealing a second canvas underneath, painted black. Rector made six more double-canvas works that year and finished over twenty in the next two decades—one of which took three years to complete (see page 12). These double-layered canvas subtractions were unique; nothing similar can be seen among the works of American abstract painters of the time. The closest analogues were produced in Italy—Lucio Fontana’s celebrated Spatial Concept works, part of the Spatialism movement. To make them, he stabbed and slashed the canvas to underscore immateriality. Rector, in contrast, methodically cut into the top layer of canvas, which was stretched and therefore under tension, and sealed the cut edges with acrylic paint. The cuts released tension, creating a cleanly crafted convex interior space. Fontana often lined the reverse of his canvases with black gauze so that the darkness would shimmer behind the open cuts to create a sense of mystery through illusion and depth.3 In Rector’s double-layered canvas subtractions, moving shadows cast by the cutouts can be observed by viewers as they move past. These pieces are, in fact, closer to the works of Milanese avantgardist Dadamaino, who in the 1950s cut elliptical holes into her monochromatic surfaces, which she occasionally backed with fabric. Nevertheless, Rector did not know Dadamaino’s work. Rector immediately began exhibiting her paintings. Her seventh exhibition was the annual juried Texas Painting and Sculpture show of 1966, juried by Richard Diebenkorn. Out of the 825 entries submitted by 506 artists, Diebenkorn selected 93 works for the exhibition and awarded five prizes, including a $200 Humble Oil and Refining Company Award to

Marge Rector. Balance. 1966. Acrylic on canvas. Whereabouts of original unknown.

Rector for her painting Balance, a half-black and half-white hard-edge painting of two circles that intersected, forming a pendulum. In 1967 she made a small series, Captured Forms (see page 10), and started two other series: Reflections, again in black and white, and Shadows. These are bold forms that appear to shape-shift between background and foreground, implying movement. At the same time, she also initiated a series of works titled Abstractions, identified in numerical order year by year. She continued to make the Abstractions until 2014. Chapman Kelley Art Gallery undertook Rector’s representation in 1966. Over the next fifteen years, the artist was given several successful solo and group shows and participated in competitive art exhibitions. During this period, prominent collectors

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in the Dallas–Fort Worth area acquired a number of her paintings, and in 1969 her work toured throughout Texas. In 1970 Rector painted Abstract 9, which has a predecessor, Abstract 9 of 1968. While both paintings have the same white and gold palette and feature repeating patterns, the earlier work contains a plant-like form. The later painting is mesmerizing, with its moiré pattern of swelling and warping lines. This painting tricks the eye by creating the illusion of movement. After making almost fifty paintings in the first four years of her career, in this work she displayed a new level of proficiency and confidence. Although Op Art fell out of fashion as quickly as it was identified, Rector, along with many other betterknown artists—including British painter Bridget Riley—began to focus on making hard-edge color abstractions instead. American artist Valerie Jaudon, an originator of the Pattern and Decoration movement, began to paint works with repeating patterns, alluding to fabric or wallpaper, which were featured in the important 1977 exhibition Pattern Painting, at PS1 in Queens. This child of Op Art was a legacy of 1960s post-minimalist participatory happenings and the flourishing of drug culture among seekers of intensified experiences. There remained artists who continued to experiment—not as much with optical abstraction but with an expanded abstract language employing repetition and focusing on shape relationships, and there remained an audience interested in this work.

Marge Rector. Abstract VII. 2004. Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 23 inches. Detail, see page 20.

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In 1973 Rector and her husband, Floyd Rector, moved to the Bay Area from Dallas, settling in Sausalito. Upon their arrival they found her a studio in the Industrial Center Building, even before they purchased a home. She continued to paint blackand-white as well as colored abstractions, including a few on triangular canvases. She also participated

in the annual Sausalito Art Festival, where she met festival founders Timothy Rose and Kay Carlson. Rose then invited the artist to participate in shows at Rose/Bernardi Gallery, Sausalito—one of which, in 1976, included Rector’s most complex and elaborate painting, Abstract 4, 1971–73 (see page 12). It was a black-and-white double canvas with what looked like “floating Japanese box kites that tugged and pulled in counter-directions,” as described by Ada Garfinkel in the Marin Independent Journal. Garfinkel, an expressionist painter and president of the Marin County Art Society, continued, “Marge Rector’s precise, rectilinear acrylic paintings are as elegant as a Japanese garden, yet they are hypnotically demanding in their alternating figure-ground relationship that occurs within the viewer’s eye.”4 By the late 1970s, after Rector had shown in over fifty exhibitions, her husband hired longtime friend and architect Gary Kneeland to build a Modernist studio for his wife on the side of a mountain in Woodacre; she moved into the studio in 1982. After this move, Rector’s work made a radical departure. For the next decade, through the 1980s, she worked on her Free Flow series. After over fifteen years of hard-edge painting, she gave herself permission to paint more loosely, pouring drips and creating squiggles by tilting unstretched canvas in multiple directions. For some of the works, the paint was poured without additional manipulation with a brush, and others were executed with brush assistance. The impetus for this stylistic change was Rector’s realization that in group exhibitions, her work was typically placed at the edges of walls, since it did not fit in with the works of other local expressionist painters. From 1990 to 1992, Rector painted thirteen abstract paintings based on images of water, fire, and traffic patterns; nine of these were part of her Caribbean

Marge Rector. Abstract. 1982–85. Acrylic on canvas 52 x 48 inches. Detail, see page 14.

series. She made these paintings in anticipation of family travels, in an attempt to create imagined surfaces of the sea. Through the 1990s she continued to paint in a loose style while simultaneously moving in the opposite direction—making what she called her Complicated series, four of which form a subcategory of the Caribbean series. She employed the contrast of a loose style and tighter, more defined paint application with smaller forms that look like puzzle pieces (see page 17). Evoking the work of Brice Marden, these works suggest the movement of water or other matter. In the 2000s Rector experimented with adding salt crystals to her loose-style paintings. They dissolve and recrystallize to create a subtle sparkling effect (see page 23). These works, many of which are painted on unprimed canvas, are the most ethereal of her abstractions. Rector also made drawings with colored markers of liquid ink. And she painted several small canvas works, a practice she started in the 1970s.

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MARGE RECTOR: BIOGRAPHY

Marge Rector. Abstract V. 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 18 inches. Detail, see page 23.

From 2003 to 2007 Rector painted a series of hard-edge color paintings using two different basic palettes: one with red, black, white, and gray; the other of blue, green, black, and gray. These works— while less dimensional than the earlier, more optical paintings—carry forward the artist’s Modernist aesthetic. In this series she arranged shapes in various sizes, creating a composition of animated forms (see page 21). And, in 2004, she painted a small number of vertical works, constituting the Long Slender series (see page 20). Rector does not consider herself part of an international movement of artists. An individual painting in the northern woods of Marin County, she has been driven by a cool, almost detached, mechanical approach to orchestrating visual energies. There is no overt emotion or recognizable subject matter. Her

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work asks viewers to inspect each painting before them with an open mind, seeing all there is to see (or what they think they see). Her nonobjective oeuvre, in its simplicity and modesty, can be considered an authentic and culturally relevant creative achievement. Notes: 1. Jon Borgzinner, “Op Art: Pictures That Attack the Eye,” Time 84, no. 17 (Oct. 23, 1964): 42–44. 2. Peter Frank, “Op Springs Eternal: The Responsive Eye Fifty Years On,” 2015. Essay accompanying exhibition at David Richards Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; http://issuu.com/davidrichardgallery/docs/postop_catalog_v3/1. 3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucio_Fontana. 4. Ada Garfinkel, “Artists’ Works Do Tricks with Viewer’s Eye, Mind,” Marin Independent Journal, Sept. 21, 1976, p. 17.

1929 Born in Norman, OK. Raised in Lubbock, TX 1950 BA degree in commercial art from Texas Technological College (Texas Tech University) 1950–64 Works as commercial artist 1950–73 Lives in Dallas 1964 Changes career path to fine arts; takes art classes at Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; studies with Chapman Kelley, Dallas; Time magazine article on Op Art 1965 The Responsive Eye at MoMA, NY 1966 Joins the stable of artists with Atelier Chapman Kelley 1973 Moved to San Francisco Bay Area (Sausalito) 1982 New studio built in Woodacre, CA

STYLES OF PAINTING 1966 Black-and-white Visual Participation series 1967 First double-canvas painting 1980 Free Flow paintings 1988–2004 Long Slender paintings 1990s Complicated series and Caribbean series 2003–2007 Hard-edge color paintings 2007–2008 Salt paintings

IMPORTANT SHOWS AND RECOGNITIONS 1966 Merit Award, annual juried Texas Painting and Sculpture show, juror Richard Diebenkorn 1966 Butler Institute of Art, Annual Mid-Year Show, Youngstown, OH

Marge Rector, 2014

1967–70 Texas Fine Arts Association Circuit Exhibition; paintings received awards and were selected to be exhibited in cultural centers in Mexico and Texas 1970 Butler Institute of American Art, Annual MidYear Show, Youngstown, OH 1975 New Mexico International Art Show, Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, NM 1976 Review by Ada Garfinkel, Marin Independent Journal 1993, 1994 Agora Gallery, group shows Color Talk and Personal Motives, Soho, NY 1994 Abney Galleries, group show Abstract Explorations, Soho; Montserrat Gallery, Critic’s Choice, group show, Soho 1995 Abney Galleries, group show Expanding Consciousness, Soho; San Bernardino Art Association, Inland Exhibition XXXI, San Bernardino County Museum, Redlands, CA 2014 Marin Community Foundation, group show

Prime Time, Novato, CA

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CAPTURED FORMS # 5 1967

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS 10

42 x 42 inches

ABSTRACT 9 1970

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

52 x 48 inches 11


ABSTRACT 4 1971–73

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS 12

40 x 40 inches

ABSTRACT 8 1976

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

35 x 35 inches 13


ABSTRACT 1982–85

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

14

52 x 48 inches

ABSTRACT 1 1989

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

40 x 40 inches 15


ABSTRACT 9 1991

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

16

48 x 51 inches

ABSTRACT 2 (CARIBBEAN SERIES #2) 1992

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

28 x 28 inches 17


ABSTRACT VI 1997

ACRYLIC AND MARKER ON CANVAS

18

50 x 50 inches

ABSTRACT XVII 2004

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

10 x 10 inches 19


ABSTRACT VII 2004

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

20

72 x 23 inches

ABSTRACT I 2005

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

36 x 36 inches 21


DRAWING 28 2007

INK AND MARKER ON PAPER

22

11 x 14 inches

ABSTRACT V 2011

SALT AND ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

11 x 18 inches 23


ABSTRACT I 2012

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

24

36 x 36 inches

ABSTRACT XV 2011

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

32 x 32 inches 25


ABSTRACT II 2013

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

26

24 x 24 inches

ABSTRACT I 2014

ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

16 x 20 inches 27


ABSTRACT II 2014

ACRYLIC AND MARKER ON CANVAS

28

40 x 40 inches


watts art publications

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Marge Rector: Fifty Years of Non-Objective Abstraction  

Born in 1929, Rector moved to the Bay Area in 1973 from Dallas. She has painted post painterly abstractions since 1964, for over forty years...

Marge Rector: Fifty Years of Non-Objective Abstraction  

Born in 1929, Rector moved to the Bay Area in 1973 from Dallas. She has painted post painterly abstractions since 1964, for over forty years...

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