beta pictoris gallery at VOLTA Basel, Switzerland
(scroll down for installation images)
beta pictoris gallery presented an exhibition of four American painters, much of it created especially for VOLTA 10 in Basel, Switzerland. The exception - a body of work on paper by African American artist Eugene J. Martin (1938-2005), and spanning from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s - will serve as a springboard to a dialogue on the place of abstract art and African American abstract painters in the present. All four artists have worked outside the confines of the New York art world while having a significant influence on art now.
Martin’s work from the 1960s through 1980s reinvented the very idea of abstract painting. Like another Southern artist and African American, Jack Whitten, he sought what Whitten called a way of “getting rid of de Kooning” while continuing abstraction, much like Gerhard Richter in Europe. Martin’s questioning of gesture also reflects the collages of Romare Bearden, who did so much to make black urban and rural experience a subject of modern art.
Both Martin and Leslie Smith III address painterly concerns not often associated with African American artists. Smith, in a clear nod to Ed (Edward) Clark, who broke free of the rectangular canvas as early as 1957, playfully defies the norm by using shaped canvases. Odili Donald Odita, born in Nigeria, uses geometric patterns and vivid colors to emphasize process and physical sensation as much as concept. Alabama artist Clayton Colvin, the sole non-African American in our project, retains the eloquence of painterly gesture and modernist tradition, but in paintings on raw, unprepared linen and deeply rooted in drawing.
All four artists point beyond cynicism, to hopes for painting. An exhibition of largely small-scale work can thus serve as a context to something larger.