Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

White II: An Exhibition of White Paintings

Howard Scott Gallery
529 West 20th Street

February – March 11, 2006

Rebecca Salter Untitled HH 38 2006 acrylic and other mediums on linen, 10 x 9 inches Courtesy Howard Scott Gallery

Rebecca Salter, Untitled HH 38 2006 acrylic and other mediums on linen, 10 x 9 inches Courtesy Howard Scott Gallery

According to light theory, white is the sum of all colors. As a spiritual symbol, white occupies one end of another kind of spectrum; it’s the note of purity beyond life’s assortment of grays. For artists, though, white has a more down-to-earth characteristic.  As a painted or sculpted surface, it’s especially revealing of subtle marks, textures, and volumes. And, as these paintings and sculptures by thirteen very different artists demonstrate, whiteness is an almost endlessly mutable quality.

The exhibition marks the tenth anniversary of Howard Scott’s original all-white show, which included four of the artist’s here. Among the four is Rebecca Salter, whose tall, slender diptych “Untitled JJ1” (2006) seems the embodiment of meditative constraint. Its surface (actually grayish-tan from the linen support showing through) quietly vibrates from hundreds of delicate parallel lines; these minutely irregular marks seem to accrue with a singular, organic regularity. A pale, translucent wash covers the entire surface, imparting an extra depth, and enhancing the effect of humming self-containment.

Vincent Hamel, too, had work in the original exhibition, and if Salter’s work has an otherworldly aspect, his untitled panel from 2005 is all physical grit. Undifferentiated except by texture, his paint has the grainy viscosity of cement, its surface evocatively recording the broad, buttering attack of a palette knife or trowel.

By contrast, soft, overlapping circular forms have been applied to the surface of Robin Rose’s panel, giving it a delicate organic depth. So many of these lily pad-like forms fill the surface that no portion of “Pause” (2006) is flat. Circular stains also dot its surface, but they correspond to none of the “lily pads,” adding to the sense of constant, gentle undulation. (A peek at the panel’s edge reveals its aluminum honeycomb core—a startlingly unyielding support for its melting forms.)

Down the wall, Lance Letscher’s collage subtly bristles, both in its surface and its literary allusions. “White Side” (2006) consists of countless strands of paper, sliced from record album covers (judging from their bits of fractured text), and bound into a regular pattern of arcs. These bundles are mounted on what appears to be an old ledger sheet filled with hand-written entries. Standing out among the fragmented phrases is the single word “Records”—punning, perhaps, on the original purpose of the ledger, the source of the strips, and the way an old ordering has given way to a new, idiosyncratic one.

David Goerk’s three small, wall-mounted sculptures feature strict geometric forms—variations of a cube or box, with segments cut out—but their slightly irregular surfaces lend them a surprising organicness. Their whiteness highlights internal shadows, increasing their three-dimensionality—while at the same time suggesting that they’re actually outgrowths of the gallery wall’s white mass. The inner facets of “#8 (Doorman)” (2006) have rougher, lumpy surfaces, heightening the contradictions between interior and exterior spaces.

A square resin relief sculpture from 2004 by Florence Pierce seems a pale greenish-gray, but on closer inspection it’s impossible to assign it any one color. The untitled relief’s flat surface is translucent, with a faintly iridescent quality. Light seem to infiltrate slowly from the sides, imparting a dimensionless depth utterly different from Goerk’s modeled blocks.

Stephen Westfall is one of the few artists here to animate his work not through physical manipulations of space but solely through the vigor of his design. The light green-blue geometric shapes of his canvas “The Alleluia (For Leonard Cohen)” (2006) seem at first as coolly controlled as his oil-and-alkyd surface, but in a moment, the image warms with subtle pictorial tensions. His large, square composition has been divided into nine smaller squares so that the outer ones increase slightly in size, on either one or two dimensions. Each smaller square in turn has been bisected, just off-center, by horizontal and vertical lines. In turns out that this playful composition consists entirely of shifting tensions, endlessly testing our expectations.

Color is at a minimum throughout the exhibition—of course that’s the point—but this serves only to highlight the varieties of surface, plasticity, and scale. At Howard Scott, the artists’ different personalities are apparent in a startling diversity of means.