Friday, February 6th, 2009

Terry Winters: Knotted Graphs at Matthew Marks Gallery

November 6- January 24, 2009
522 West 22nd Street, between Tenth and Eleventh avenues
New York City, 212 243 0200

Terry Winters Knotted Graphs 6 2008. Oil on linen, 77 x 98 inches. Cover FEBRUARY 2009: Illustrated Set 6 2008. Oil on linen, 55 x 42 inches. Images courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery
Terry Winters, Knotted Graphs 6 2008. Oil on linen, 77 x 98 inches. Images courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery

Terry Winters’s show includes eleven large oil on linen paintings and five smaller black graphite drawings on paper. Stand up close and his knots look flat and roughly painted. But move back, and then they appear to be spheres, with markings like those on a soccer ball, arranged on grids. He loves blues and yellows, those great Matissean colors, and also intense red, which he often uses both on his knots and in the backgrounds. Winters, an abstract pointillist, asks you to step back to see his paintings come into being. But although he, like Georges Seurat, has apparently been inspired by mathematical theorizing, still these pictures should be judged intuitively. In his drawings, the black spheres do not appear three-dimensional and the background is the simple neutral white of the paper. Like Seurat, Winters has mastered a difficult craft, translating a distinctively personal style of visual thinking into convincing drawings which work without color on a relatively small scale. In the paintings, occasionally his spheres run across almost the entire picture plane, but often he lets us see his grid and large areas of the intensely colored background. Some may remind you of Sam Francis’s Blue Balls, although Winters packs his pictures more densely. And his lavishly worked colors occasionally have some unruly relationship to 1970s pattern painting, the faux-Islamic decorations of Philip Taaffe and, even, the gridded portion of Henri Matisse’s The Moroccans. But whatever his visual sources, Winters makes entirely original, entirely resolved works of art.

Compare Sean Scully’s Walls of Light, abstract solid walls of rectangular panels of glowing colors, to Winters’s painted knots, which float in front of a shallow space, lit from within, whose exact depth is indeterminate. As different as, say, the paintings of Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, they reveal that today, as in the Abstract Expressionists’ era, very diverse forms of abstraction are viable. Often abstraction has felt beleaguered. Justly so, for the fate of color field painting reveals the greatest danger faced by this art form: It all too readily becomes merely elegant decoration. Winter demonstrates that painting abstractly remains a viable option. The “modern artist,” Meyer Schapiro once said, “is attracted to those possibilities of form which include a considerable randomness, variability and disorder . . . . His goal is . . . an order which retains a decided quality of randomness.” I can imagine no better description of Winters’s new pictures. Now, as half a century ago, handmade personal objects can help maintain Schapiro’s “critical spirit,” without which the high art world would become merely an upscale branch of the entertainment industry.