Brian Dupont: Artist's Texts

An artist's writings on art.

Posts Tagged ‘drawing

Terry Winters: Material and Mapping.

I find it continually surprising how much the art we respond to most, either as makers or viewers, is deeply connected to what we are exposed to in their formative years. The sympathies and rebellions we cultivate when we first plunge into art have lasting consequences that run biologically deep. I can only imagine the excitement of young modernists turning the academies upside down, spilling out to work in the capitals of Europe, forming groups and “isms” ever faster, blinking in and out of existence like quantum particles. As art schools became more professionalized[1], the sense of needing to advance a shared style or aesthetic concern seems to have diminished in favor of collectives with looser aesthetic dogmas.[2] Whether this is a cause or result of the rise of Post-modernism is an open question[3], but just as it would be foolish to dismiss the influence of pedagogy on the course of art, so it would be equally foolish to accord it as much scope when so much energy is directed toward revising the narratives of contemporary art.

As an undergraduate committed to painting, I was initially interested in figuration and narrative, but I quickly turned to abstraction as I worked through basic forms reduced to diagrams. I wasn’t interested in history painting or in the interaction of figures in actual space[4], but I was also not interested in the abstraction of material for its own sake.[5] My initial points of reference were Pop or neo-imagist artists, but I didn’t make a personal connection to the work, which led to my feeling a little lost. Then my teacher[6] took the time to drive me and a few other students out to see an exhibition of Terry Winters’s paintings.

It was a distillation of his Whitney retrospective, showing mostly large-scale paintings. They immediately grabbed me for their combination of scientific reference, painterly process and the integration of abstraction with a sense of space rooted in figure-ground relationships. His botanical forms were built out of impasto that sometimes seemed to be inches thick.[7] They floated in the diagrammatic space of the canvas or materialized out of scratching in the paint like corrections in a scientist’s field journal, and I was blown away. The work seemed to be speaking directly to me, a sensation that was enhanced as I digested Lisa Phillips and Klaus Kertess’s retrospective catalog. The influence went very deep and affected a great deal of how I made art, from an interest in every technical component of painting to building a studio practice that included continuous drawing.[8]

Other influences came and went, but I continued to follow Winters’s work, though mostly at a distance from New York, and so mostly through reproduction. Not knowing the difference between the real painting and the image as his work changed lead to a curious case of mis-translation. The final works in the Kansas exhibition showed him moving closer to his spores and blastula, magnifying them to fill the canvas and melding them with the painted ground. The paint was thick and luscious, like the wet-into-wet impasto of late Guston. Winters had not yet transitioned fully into the networks and fields that occupy him now, and when I first saw reproductions of the new paintings, I assumed they had the same surface topologies because I did not consider how much of his work comes from an interaction with the natural world.[9] Plants and fungi can be collected as specimens and held in the hand. Moving one’s point of view to the inside of a cell requires examination beyond the naked eye; the experience is at a remove, the material weight of handling glass slides under a microscope has given way to computer imaging on screens and the surface of the work shows the new source. Where I imagined near reliefs of painted networks, Winters was actually working much more simply and directly, with the linear structures graphed in translucent skeins.

Winters’s exhibition “Facts and Fictions” at the Drawing Center shows the transition clearly. As one starts clockwise around the gallery one can see how drawing led the way. The earliest works, on the south wall, are thick charcoal, chalk, and sometimes crayon and graphite; the images emerge out of a velvety density embedded in the paper. To anyone familiar with his paintings, the facture is instantly recognizable, although the paper’s existence as exposed ground stands as in stark contrast to the refusal to let primed canvas enjoy a similar spotlight. The back wall contains five works on large paper that shift quickly from drawing and mixed media to paintings on paper. The choppy structure and palette of “Animation” is echoed in the painting “Parallel Rendering 2” of a year later; the off-white of the paper is a similar value to the painting’s tan ground, and the traces of yellow behind the network adding traces of luminosity.[10] The north wall marks the transition to the exploration of the entire surface as a shifting and tessellating plane. Winters has moved through layers of magnification to spaces and fields described by complicated mathematics that are graphed on computer screens, and the drawings’ surfaces have shifted to precise skins rendered in shiny graphite with additions of charcoal or ink that are screen-thin.[11] Depth is created by the spatial alignment of the structure rather than the layers of material articulating relationships between figure and ground.[12]

This is primarily evident in the comparison of selections from the Schema series from 1985–86 to the to the 48 drawings in cases on the floor from 2006–16 (with different cycles emerging from the overall series). Both are comprised of letter format paper[13] that offer an encyclopedic view of Winters’s visual preoccupations at the time. In the Schema drawings there is a wider variety of material exploration, from pencil and charcoal to watercolor, gouache, and even oil stick. The botanical forms and cellular accumulations are laid out off-handedly; stacked, layered, and nested in scratched marks and jottings. Their placement responds as much to the improvisations in the painted field of space they inhabit as to mere representation. The heavy paper buckles with layers of wet media, giving a palpable linkage of biological and creative process. By contrast, the later series is dry, the paper retains its plane and the spatial graphing and forms tend to be centrally organized and often the deckle edge is delineated with a hard pencil edge. These images read as a mapping of the paper’s space. There is still space for improvisation, but the forms are ultimately more descriptive than their predecessors, even as they are more difficult for the layman to understand and identify.

Earlier in the summer, “Facts and Fictions” could be contrasted with Winters’s exhibition “12twelvepaintings” at Matthew Marks Gallery. One could examine how the spaces in the drawings projected to six and a half by five feet.[14] Color and texture articulate the surface, and the scale and painting process allows for more complex interactions between different descriptive systems. The paint surface did not grab me the way the earlier works did, but I appreciated their cartographer’s directness. As I left I found a small monoprint from 2004 in the back of the gallery entrance, under the stairs. The pale colors alternated between atmospheric space and border, reversing their functions as they interacted with other elements. A strip of copper rectangles along the top implied a sheet torn from spiral bound pad. The structure seemed to rise up off of the paper in embossed relief, delineating a twisting spiral space and an enclosing frame, and then pushing beyond the artificial border. Perhaps it was an experiment for the artist, but it struck me that I couldn’t help but see in it the physicality I’d always imagined in Winters’s large paintings. This avenue may not be important to the artist, after all many artists explore directions that are not important to their practice, but it was important for me to find.

“Terry Winters: Facts and Fictions” continues at the Drawing Center until August 12.


[1] Yale’s MFA program sending Richard Serra, Brice Marden, Chuck Close, Nancy Graves, and others right into SoHo seems like a turning point for the professional connections between graduate programs and the New York gallery scene.

[2] Consider the YBA generation that came out of Goldsmith’s; their work is really only connected by being collected by Charles Saatchi, rather than any shared aesthetic concerns.

[3] Although to be fair, the social snobbery and cliquishness of some strains of modernism would put many present-day teenagers to shame.

[4] Photography seemed to have secured this ground and rendering tableau in paint seemed to only be adding expressionist flourishes that confused the relationships of the figures to themselves and the space they inhabited.

[5] Yet.

[6] Sharon Louden, in what must have been one of her first jobs, and who has proceeded to do a great work on what it means to be a working artist in today’s culture.

[7] The phallic forms of “Pitch Lake” particularly stand out in this regard.

[8] It also led me to make a great many very derivative paintings, as is a common reaction for most art students.

[9] This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given how much the early naturalists figure in literature of Winters’s early works.

[10] The painting is more resolved, but where its yellow structure describes a source of flight behind the primary structure, the streaks of color in the drawing add to the sense of directness in the artist recording his intent.

[11] This is especially evident in the “7-Fold Sequence” works.

[12] This approach to the space of the artwork is evident in Winters’s prints, where an a priori articulation of the image is dictated by serial nature of the printing process.

[13] Artists’ approach to paper is always fascinating. Many process-based artists experiment with a broad variety of paper (Brice Marden and his use of Asian as well as European watercolor papers comes to mind), but Winters’s focus is on capturing the image, and his paper doesn’t call attention to itself as a unique material.

[14] Although the exact dimensions of the 2006–16 works are not provided, note that a letter size of eleven to twelve by eight and a half to nine inches keeps the proportions nearly identical. The use of framing devices within the paintings serves to further tighten the proportions.


Written by Brian Dupont

August 8, 2018 at 12:58 pm

In Conversation with an Artist & Her Mother

My interview with artist Juliette Losq and her mother is live on Idiom. Click here to read it. Juliette Losq: Lucaria,  an exhibition of her drawings is up at Theodore Art in Bushwick, Brooklyn through December 16th.

Written by Brian Dupont

December 2, 2012 at 10:27 am

Posted in Interview

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Where I Am Now: In Conversation with Peter Soriano.

My conversation with Peter Soriano regarding the evolution of his practice is up now at Idiom. You can read it by clicking here.

Written by Brian Dupont

September 24, 2012 at 8:20 pm

On Site: Serra at the Met and the Menil.

My essay on the retrospective of Richard Serra’s drawings that has hung at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Menil Collection is up now at Idiom:

Written by Brian Dupont

June 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Posted in Review

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Intent or Artifact: Richard Serra’s Drawings.

I will confess that I have long had a fascination with the drawings of sculptors. Drawing as a medium is immediate in a way no other medium is; a mark on paper direct from the artist’s hand is about as close to thought or intent as you can get. Where a painter’s hand will leave an equivalent gesture from drawing to painting (think of Terry Winters or Brice Marden), a sculptor (may) have an interesting turn as the marks turn to towards the artist’s thinking in three dimensions. There was something to a drawing with the directness of a schematic, something only as refined as it needed to be yet dealing with idiosyncratic manufacture that spoke to me, but in a dialect I couldn’t quite fathom.

Richard Serra’s drawings approached this basic interest from the opposite horizon. His sculptural output seems to be about taking the basic language of art that is regularly commanded by drawing (line, volume, mass, gesture) and transposing it into sculpture (and from sculpture, one could argue, to architecture). A product of the late 60’s, Serra’s early concerns dovetailed with larger questions raised by the reductiveness of late Modernism in a way that could not help but engage painting. His early installation works of paintstick on linen stapled directly to the wall could easily be called paintings if the artist wanted to. (And matches the polished and otherwise anonymous metal wall reliefs of  painters like Ellsworth Kelly.)

Abstract Slavery (1974) is a monochrome masterpiece of subtle orientations of mass, angle, and material that communicates with little in the way of vocabulary beyond the considerable work of making it. One edge is trimmed perpendicular to the floor, and the irregular plane suggests a cut into space that remains flat on the wall. The scale and irregularity alter the viewer’s space with a shove, which is about as direct as communication gets.

As a retrospective of his drawings organized by the Menil collection opens at the Metropolitan Museum, viewers will get a chance to see a less trumpeted side of the artist, his commitment to process. Serra’s drawings are not composed pictorially, but of an intent to act on a space or material. Since his heralded list of verbs and his under-recognized process based works of splashing, scattering, and other action on found industrial material that preceded his props, the artist’s commitment to the materials and process has not been as explored. Large bends in steel plates are not always talked about for the work of their making, but it is clear that the artist approaches them in this fashion, as would the ship builders whose steel plants help manufacture the pieces. Likewise his approach to his drawings exhibits a particular rigor that does not necessarily privilege the object.

Laura Gilbert’s look at the provenance and dating of the material that will be on view strikes me as utterly beside the point. The “installation drawings” simply do not exhibit any concern with finicky notions of a precious object or the artist’s hand. It is likely that anonymous assistants did a good deal of the manual labor of applying heated paintstick to linen, and it seems much more appropriate to consider those pieces of linen as no more special than a particular plate of steel or lead. Any minor surface inflection is beside the point, and with them dates of production or concerns about whether they are originals or copies. They are, as the artist bluntly states, material.

That is not to say that the Mr. Serra has discarded any care about his work in favor of some ephemeral notion of the dissolution of the art object; how could anyone with such an obvious dedication to weight and mass? I continually find myself thinking about his early work To Lift in MoMA’s collection. Made by the artist simply grabbing a piece of vulcanized rubber and lifting it up off the floor so that the sheet could support the weight of its new found (sculptural) volume, it is as direct a gesture as drawing can get. My engagement with the work comes from my day job as an art handler tasked to pack and crate works for shipment. Looking at the task of crating the sculpture with little information other than the picture, I wondered if the volume needed to be crated, or if we might just be shipping a flat piece of rubber that would be “re-lifted” for the exhibition. There was also the chance that nothing would be sent, and a new piece of rubber would be trimmed to size and lifted, duplicating the original (an exhibition copy).

Any of these courses of action would potentially fit within Mr. Serra’s practice. As it turns out I was able to talk to a colleague who had designed a crate for the work, one that supported a very aged fold of vulcanized rubber (a decidedly non-archival material that does not age well). I asked after the possibility of replacing the rubber, and it turns out that the artist was unconcerned with change in the material over time, looking at it as a natural process in the life of the piece. In the end the matter is one of an artist with a realized and considered practice working through his concerns through an engagement with materials and the process enacted on them; just as some bent plates sitting in a steel yard in the Bronx do not a Serra make, some new linen, paintstick, and staples do not change the artist’s intentions on the space around him, or us.



Written by Brian Dupont

April 14, 2011 at 10:43 am

Posted in General

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Building the Everyday.

It is unfair to judge an entire genre, movement, technique, or medium in art by the weakest examples (or what has annoyed you in the past). The confluence of assemblage in sculpture (and to a lesser extent painting) seems to have become a defacto house style, especially among young and emerging artists and the galleries that show them. It has always annoyed me, perhaps for its seeming ubiquity and the lack of (or dare I say utter contempt for) craft that sometimes seems inherent to such work. It is as if the permissions opened up by Rauschenberg and fully realized in the work of Richard Tuttle had spawned a contemporary equivalent to the legions of academic painters who buried their canvases with earth tones following the lead of Rembrandt and others.

We all have our own value systems and personal biases, but they should not prevent us from wondering enough to be drawn in for a closer look at something that has previously only been an irritant. I ventured into Peter Blum’s 29th Street space unfamiliar with John Beech’s work (although intrigued by images of Make that I had seen in various press announcements) and left considering what made this exhibition, this work, different from similar constructions and assemblage that I have dismissed in the past. I was excited to discover new work that spoke to my own personal interests while at the same time forcing to me reconsider so much of what I’ve seen and responded to in the past.

Upon reflection the draw of reference and subject matter is the key. Upon moving to New York I was struck by just how neat, clean, and taped off much of the art that was being shown was, despite being exhibited only a few feet from gritty sidewalks and made in lofts  and factories re-purposed from a different era. I wanted the art I was seeing to reflect the environment of the city that I was growing to love. Mr. Beech’s sculptures and drawings are inspired by the wear and detritus of an industrial urban infrastructure. He takes the quasi-minimalist forms of dumpsters and shipping containers, functional objects that are as ubiquitous as they are either ignored (at best) or scorned as a nuisance (at worst), and draws out a more complex formal language. His sculptures, like their sources, are as marked as the sidewalks and streets we all walk, portraits of a system and environment that functions not in spite of the grime, but because of it.

Not all of the works are uniformly successful, but they do point to the artist tracking the tests, sketches, and prototypes that are a personal R&D lab. The front gallery offers a sculpture of five industrial sized bottles of glue turned up to get every last ounce of usable material out, a trick familiar to almost any builder writ large. The large Composite Drawing push pins a mural sized accumulation of small sketches to the wall. Individually they do not provide much beyond a measure of the artist’s abstract penmanship. Similarly the small wall vitrines (Here to Alang and works from the artist’s Blagen series) in the side gallery only set up the recycling of studio debris and previous ideas (such as Mr. Beech’s larger previous encasement sculptures) as smaller works.

The side gallery also includes three Coated Drawings, which are some of the most successful works in the show. They relate to the collages of metallic tape on near billboard sized photographic prints, but the grain and scale of the photographic base is perfectly matched to the tone, touch, and viscosity of the enamel paint that modifies and erases that image; it becomes almost impossible to tell if the artist has printed a degraded negative. In the large two dimensional works the web of metallic tape struggles to find an equal footing with the scale of the photos.  The two Reutlingen Factory Yard works use more tape (# 2 disrupting the surface with an all over network that mirrors the background, # 1 relying on a contained flat mass), but Stagg Street, Brooklyn works better in this regard for combining two photographs in the first place. The strips of foiled adhesive are able to function as drawn line and shape that both function independently by describing new related shapes while also unifying the underlying images, rather than just disrupting the illusionistic rendering in the photo.

Moving to the rear gallery his ideas are more fully realized through the objects presented. Make takes the tape drawing from the large collages and expands it into three dimensions. It is made of re-purposed hollow aluminum troughs bolted together to form a barricade like structure. Uniformly placed screw holes on the ends of each bar hinting at earlier function, while red duct tape is a direct application of color in lieu of a painted gesture, the ridges of folded tape are a union impasto. The sculptures Rolling Platform and Silver Container simultaneously reference painting and the minimal object while also foregrounding the lowly containers that are abused in the process of moving everyday cargo and freight form place to place. His containers would be hard pressed to function; the platform is sealed off, the container is oversized and open; but their construction as sculpture and everyday monument is persuasive.

While it is possible that the turn to assemblage was a response by younger artists to the same hermeticism I disdained, there is a noticeable difference with the craft of Mr. Beech’s sculpture; it seems solidly constructed rather than slapped together, and engages the methods of fabrication through a personal studio practice that is direct and unfussy. Finish may not be necessary, but is considered and never ignored. In this way his exploration of construction and assemblage also constitutes a formal investigation of these processes that is often missing from other works of superficially similar construction. His pragmatism towards his materials is both subject and operation, the contractor’s equivalent of medium as message. Where other assemblage invariably falls flat for me is not when the construction is shoddy, but when it is ill-considered, or only just what is necessary to get it out of the studio. By avoiding this trap Mr. Beech is producing complete statements as opposed to exhibiting his sketches.

John Beech The State of Things at Peter Blum Chelsea 526 West 29th Street, New York City through March 19, 2011.

Written by Brian Dupont

March 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm

The Matter of Tara Donovan’s Drawings.

Tara Donovan’s new exhibition at Pace empties out the arena in which she normally works, eschewing a single piece that overruns the gallery in favor of discretely framed wall reliefs. In their own way they present the same beguiling alchemy of material that she is known for in her large scale sculptural installations. From across the gallery the subtle shift between the accumulations of floating pin-heads and the white board grounds transforms the material; they could pass for massive graphite drawings, the pins becoming flickering marks built up on paper. Of course upon closer inspection the material plainness becomes apparent and as they aggregate in shallow space their material density becomes dazzling.

But the show as a whole only hits one note, and the individual works feel interchangeable, be they gradient, dispersion, or puddle. The group as a whole feels like it has been produced to be easily digested by collectors. The varying sizes provide price points of entry into a brand experience that is more manageable than a hangar sized installation and easier to display, but there is no internal logic between the size of the works and the image. I think this weakness actually runs counter to what is usually considered one of Ms. Donovan’s strengths. Here the total amount of work and material presented diffuses out across the gallery walls rather than concentrating at a center of gravity. While I suspect that these works will wind up looking better alone, or in relation to other works, that only goes to their status as commodity.

I do not begrudge Ms. Donovan (or any other artist) a variety of output, or making works that may aim for marketability. The realities of making art, especially large scale sculpture, require the same capital investment that other projects on the scale of architecture must contend with. Sculptors have long funded projects with the sale of drawings, and Ms. Donvan winks towards the sibling hierarchy of media by entitling the individual works as Drawing (Pins). Similarly, the catalog essay by the Drawing Center’s Jonathan T.D. Neil addresses the unique perspective an artist who primarily works in three dimensions brings to a flat surface, but for me the interest has always lay in the dichotomy between schematic layout and direct mark making. These drawings provide neither, but instead point to what they may allow the artist to do next.


Tara Donovan:  Drawings (Pins) at Pace Gallery 510 West 25th Street through March 19th.





Written by Brian Dupont

March 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Review

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