Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's all fairly abstract in Columbia these days

We appeared to be blessed with the abstract.
At City Gallery one can see 50 small drawings by Sara Schneckloth, at the Columbia Museum of Art 30 big paintings by Cleve Gray and at the State Museum nearly 70 pieces by Robert Courtright. In a few days an exhibition by Bill Hosterman that includes a dozen abstract prints will add to the mix.
It hardly makes sense to lump all these artists and their work together. Abstract art covers a wide range of approaches from those which "abstract” something to those that are much more about what’s going on in the artists’ heads and arms and hands. These shows of course prove that point.

Sara Schneckloth
at City Art
Schneckloth, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina for two years, stresses the act of drawing, but her pieces in “Recall Patterns” are the least purely abstract of those that can be seen around town.
The pieces in are a mixture of pastel, colored pencil and china marker on black paper expressing a kind of hand and eye dance. At the same time they feel connected to something real. Looking at these drawings, it’s hard to not think of fish, dragonflies, sea slugs, butterflies floating in a field of falling veils of color. They are spiny and loopy and moving through space (water, outer space, a thick atmosphere). Even though they appear to be moving they are also trapped within and upon the 12-by-12- inch piece of paper on which they are created.
Her lines are sometimes barely there and other times solid and firm. The wide-ranging titles (“Alien Heart,” “Wander Lust,” “Calculus”) seem to come after the drawing is made and are, like the drawings, somewhat descriptive but never obvious.
The works are beautiful, but fun; mysterious, but accessible.
City Art is one of several places Schneckloth’s art can currently be seen. Her work is in the just-opened USC art faculty exhibition at USC’s McKissick Museum through Jan. 9; “Not Saying,” a group show at Clemson University through Sept. 17; and the most recent edition of the journal “New American Paintings.”
“Recall Pattens” is up through Sept. 4 and a reception will takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 27. City Art is at 1224 Lincoln St.

Final day to see Robert Courtright
retrospective at State Museum

The 50-year retrospective by Courtright, a native of Sumter, is in its final hours – closing at 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23. It is a long-overdue big show for Courtright, who has spent much of his life in New York and France, although he maintained ties here and has a home at Edisto Island.
By the late ‘50s, he was working in a very abstract manner that he has mostly maintained since. The dominant form in all his collages, which make up the bulk of the show, is deceptively simple: grids of colored paper. Each nearly identically sized piece of paper is floats slightly between above the support rather than overlapping as in traditional collage. Although these pieces are monochromatic, each piece of paper has color and texture variations.
Some use recycled paper from which the text can be faintly seen.
The newest collages involve heavier, high-grade paper that has been painted, sanded and painted again.
You can find a full review with lots of photos of the Courtright show on this website. It appeared June 7. (See archives listing at bottom right.)
Courtright, 82, was never all that caught up in the New York art world and has spent a great deal of the last 50 years living in Europe. He slipped a bit between the cracks as far as getting attention and it’s a shame that when this show comes down Aug. 23, it’s over and not moving on to any other venue. It deserves a longer life.

Cleve Gray's beautiful old-fashioned
paintings at Columbia Museum

Painter Cleve Gray, who died at 85 in 2004, lived his entire life just outside New York and was friends with many of the first and second-generation abstract expressionist and colorfield artists, especially Barnet Newman. He was also closely tied to the art world though his many years as a writer on art and close friendships with people including the writer and curator Thomas Hess. But he lived nearly his entire life on the Connecticut estate where he grew up and was independently wealthy and socially connected so he was a bit of an outsider.
The exhibition at the Columbia Museum (organized by the State University of New York at Purchase museum) focuses on the last 30 years of work.
The paintings in “Cleve Gray: Man and Nature” are the works of someone who created work in a style that had been dominant in the ‘40s and ‘50s and never changed it much. The art in the show looks very much like what he and many others were doing decades earlier. For those familiar with more famous artists of the ‘40s and ‘50s, especially Mark Rothko, Gray’s work looks derivative.
The paintings in this show are large (none smaller than 5-by-5 feet) often thinly washed in color so the weave of the canvas is visible. Most of the time, there are gradations of the color on the surface. Atop the veils of blues, yellows, reds, he made large gestures in a contrasting, usually darker color.
The most powerful and original of the 25 painting on display are the final few. This handful of works consists of erratic marks in oil stick down the center of a canvas that has been soaked with warm glowing colors. They feel like life bursting forth and struggling to hang on and make a final mark as death approached the aging artist.
Even well-informed museum visitors may have never heard of Gray and this late-period exhibition doesn’t prove particularly enlightening beautiful through the paintings may be.
A show spanning his entire career would have been much better, but Columbia doesn’t really need a major retrospective by a moderately-known abstract artist. If it does, it would be one by a person with a local connection such as Robert Courtright. And we have that show.
What it could use is an exhibition with a sampling of high-quality works by some of the bigger names of the period which could also include good, but overlooked artists like Gray. The museum does have a decent sampling from its collection of such works and artists in the contemporary art gallery adjacent to the Gray show.
“Cleve Gray: Man and Nature” continues through Sept. 27.

1 comment:

  1. The piece shown above is amazing! I'm shocked most people don't know his work. The contrast of the beautiful florescent colors soaked over a simple canvas makes them float, and the scribbles and swirls of color seem to have their own rhythm. The one dark anomoly is also exquisite!


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