Our latest curatorial endeavor, Slow Read at Circle Contemporary in Chicago, is a diverse selection of recent works that represent ongoing pursuits of material manipulation and process, while remaining tethered to narrative, memory, or the spiritual. From graphite and colored pencil to acrylic on canvas to ceramic, these works follow the sublime aspirations of 20th century abstraction and minimalism, but with an understanding that what those artists revealed wasn’t just reflective of the path they sought to pioneer, but the highly personal place they inevitably created from. Here, formal explorations are a starting point for the invention of a language that transmits idiosyncratic and mysterious ideas, feeling both familiar and unfamiliar.
This group exhibition includes six artists from the Arts of Life studios, Ted Gram-Boarini, David Krueger, Christianne Msall, Susan Pasowicz, Tim Stone, and Hubert Posey, as well as Grace Rosario Perkins and Chicago-based artists Deborah Handler, Gina Hunt, Roni Packer, and Adam Scott.
While conceptualizing this exhibition, a guiding intention was to push back against the tendency to highlight works with overt narrative and complexity. For our previous curatorial projects Mapping Fictions and Storytellers, we selected artists like William Scott, Joe Zaldivar, and Knicoma Frederick, whose works are saturated with information and command intrigue. This was motivated in part by the desire to reach a wide audience with an irrefutable message about the important and dynamic work being created in progressive art studios.
Foregoing representational imagery and text, the artists selected for Slow Read don't necessarily make outward overtures in order to gain the understanding of viewers; in an essential sense, these works index a means rather than an end. The brand of abstraction here is defined by artists who impose a structure of their own devising on an intimate world unmoored from the objective constraints of image, illuminating highly personal aesthetic sensibilities.
Inventing an original perspective and navigating the world can be a formidable task, but one that is often inherent in the experience of artists with disabilities. Through this exhibition it is made obvious that abstraction in the progressive art studio is equivalent to that in the broader contemporary art community - a deeply personal endeavor. Cultivated here are visual languages used for thinking as much as or more than speaking, in creative practices that become driven by focus, fixations, or rules which are mysterious in nature and could appear to others as great sacrifices.
Circle (verb) exemplifies Roni Packer’s ongoing formal concerns based in color, surface, and material manipulation. Regarding her years long commitment to an almost exclusively yellow palette Packer recently said, “A year ago I promised my brother that I’ll cease and desist from yellow and go back to my old colorful palette. I’m really trying, and my new paintings have some pink and brown in them, but I guess that I still need to pass this yellow threshold, I guess I have more to investigate there.” This newest work (that re-introduces pink and brown) is largely influenced by a 1926 Matisse still life Lemons on a Pewter Plate.
Ted Gram-Boarini’s recent paintings employ a system of layering gestural brushstrokes in a palette determined by carefully selected film stills. In yellows, pinks, and greys applied quickly in order from background to foreground, Believable Actress serves as a translation of Emma Stone as Sam Thomson in Birdman. Choices made during his process often aren’t visible to the viewer, such as in this case, his preference to also paint the strip of canvas stapled to the back of the frame.
Deborah Handler’s hand-built ceramic object with tongues is formed by three separate components - an irregular, bottomless structure and two tongue-like slabs slumped over its top lip. Handler’s work boasts a mixing of glazes that echoes Gram-Boarini’s brushstrokes and glossy surface quality which also appears in passages of Packer’s painting. Handler makes no effort to conceal its history of distinctly manual manipulation, seeking and fleshing out visual ideas intuitively with her hands.
Heavily influenced by Dave Krueger’s interest in pop culture, The Field of Dreams depicts a vibrant aerial view of a baseball diamond while Bird Catcher resembles a maze of gardens or video game screen. His aesthetic is characterized by horizontal bands drawn across the canvas, dividing the imagery into geometric shapes and asymmetrical grids. Between these various narrative sections, Krueger populates the surface with numerous patterns, symbols, and decorative elements including stars, zigzags, squares, crosses, and X’s. Each work is informed by an elaborate narrative, which will often shift over time or with each telling.
Beechie M is a small-scale painting from the Thin Leather series, a collaboration between Grace Rosario Perkins and her father Olen Perkins. Rosario Perkins writes:
Thin Leather was my great-grandfather's nickname. He was trilingual because he had to be. He walked around prophesying. He would knock at your door and talk in English, Spanish, and O'odham. He walked til his shoes wore thin. Thin Leather became a way of exploring the idea of verbal and visual language as a way of familial healing, mark making through convoluted histories, census documents, and conversations. We mailed things through the post, we called one another, tossed in notes, apologized for shortcomings, and worked on over 25 paintings together navigating the complications that arise amidst familial dynamics and the unpacking of a shared history.
Perkins is based in Oakland and Albuquerque, but has spent most of her life moving between city centers, the Navajo Nation, and the Gila River Indian Community. She also previously worked at Creative Growth, NIAD, and Creativity Explored organizing artwork and facilitating artists over the course of eight years.
With the support of facilitators, Hubert Posey constructs multidimensional sculptural work by amassing various materials collected from around the studio, typically including textiles, foam, cardboard, yarn, and acrylic paint. Posey’s large-scale, three-footed sculpture stands just at just his height; the additive method of layering creates an otherworldly object with a striking physicality reminiscent of Thornton Dial.
Susan Pasowicz creates subtle compositions from memory that reflect her dreamlike sensibilities. Often incorporating windows, doors, or portals to the future, Pasowicz transports the viewer to hazy, ethereal atmospheres. Her process is defined by repetitive mark-making that accumulates on the paper’s surface over time. Applying thin, hairlike lines in graphite and colored pencil, she labors diligently, rendering one or two shapes at a time. Ultimately, she saturates the space with luminous planes of partitive color. A small, off-center square in Silver and Gold is surrounded by halos of silver and gold colored pencil, lending the surface a metallic sheen.
The genesis of Adam Scott’s Rose Apse lies in the exploration of interactions that occur when paint is poured on canvas - pooling, bleeding, and forming ridges - his process navigating a delicate balance between chance and control. Within these expressions he is motivated by an ambition to capture elusive aspects of influences ranging from geological phenomena in Joshua Tree to California mysticism to sci-fi narratives.
Christianne Msall’s detailed drawing is an amalgamation of intuitive shapes and symbols primarily inspired by her spirituality. Much like Pasowicz, she spontaneously works from memory, composing patterns in graphite and an array of colored pencils. Msall faithfully incorporates recurring motifs such as crosses, drooping flowers, hearts, and candles rendered in her distinctive hand.
Tim Stone pursues a steadfast commitment to drawing grids, continually tracing over the same loose, graphite lines for months at a time. His recent drawings follow compositional ideas which have long been present, but never centered in previous work. By allowing this concept to dominate in the work, the history of his repetitive process is recorded on the surface through smudged and burnished graphite.
Adjacent to Stone’s drawing, Gina Hunt’s Chromadiorama (Spliced Orange) is delineated by a much more rigid grid. Layered strips of canvas and hand-dyed theater scrim maintain tense half-twists, tightly wrapped around the painted wooden frame in regimented succession. From Hunt’s Transmitters series, this painting draws upon her ongoing interest in perceptual phenomena and interference patterns.
Slow Read continues through July 19th at Circle Contemporary, 2010 W. Carroll.