Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Diamond Bright: Martha Diamond at Sue Scott Gallery

Martha Diamond: Bright Brush Paintings at Sue Scott Gallery

June 20 to July 27, 2012
1 Rivington Street at Bowery
New York City, 212-358-8767

The first clue as to what is going on here is the deliberately quirky off-kilter hang of Martha Diamond’s new paintings. Small oils on board – more then two dozen of them, all created in the last two years –are hung in hypnotic groupings that mirror her startlingly original and lyrical imagery.

Martha Diamond, Church IV, 2010. Oil on board, 15 x 10 inches. Courtesy of Sue Scott Gallery
Martha Diamond, Church IV, 2010. Oil on board, 15 x 10 inches. Courtesy of Sue Scott Gallery

This new body of work has been painted with the flat, square-headed shorthaired brushes known as brights. A change from her usual choice, the Bright’s spatulate marks transmute to jazzy checkerboards, shadowy figures and shaggy lines. Best known for her neo-expressionist cityscapes, Diamond has always rigorously explored the nexus of abstraction and representation in her work. But her architectural sources are no longer immediately identifiable.

The abbreviated brushstrokes she’s now using create gestural markings and simplified imagery, leaping from the austere though under-painted Pentimento to the linear brevity used to playfully depict weather in Blue 1. A platform built of flat marks provides a pedestal for the enigmatic figures of Philosophe. The bright’s bristles are also responsible for the densely patterned surface of Conversation. Look closely and you can see two pixilated pugilists engaged in a digitalized punch-out.

This show represents the efflorescence of an artist who has always been passionate about paint, interested in brush stoke, color, image. But instead of the iconic wet on wet technique that has long characterized her work, Diamond has made what she describes as “the big-time change” to direct painting, beginning with white background and black paint. “I love black and white, and almost always start with black and white,” she has said. When she occasionally includes color, it is partly a result of seeing “what was under the painting”, and experimenting with “another kind of venture,” the artist has told me.

Martha Diamond, Night 1, 2011. Oil on board, 15 x 10 inches. Courtesy of Sue Scott Gallery
Martha Diamond, Night 1, 2011. Oil on board, 15 x 10 inches. Courtesy of Sue Scott Gallery

Diamond, who installed the show, views the Church series as a “sequence developed as a set.” Her methodology is both apparent and intriguing, beginning with a transparent wash in Church I, proceeding to thickly painted and brush-carved lines in Church III, and culminating with the elegant purity of Church VI, the last in the series.

The insouciance of the stripes began “as a torso seated on a swing.” The thick stripes provide a voluminous counterbalance to the obsidian foreground, using black as a note of emphasis and white as an outline. Radio City, with its brushy monolithic totem, heralds the bygone romance of the original skyscrapers and echoes the magical aura of her earlier large building paintings.

I have always loved Diamond’s direct, sinuous touch, the wet-on-wet technique that results in an urban immediacy. Portraying her native city, Diamond celebrates an ever-changing skyline.  In these small works, she has sought out other architectures investigating new landscapes. This is the work of a mature and masterful artist whose technical virtuosity and highly personal vision reinvigorate the act of painting.

Martha Diamond, Philosophes, 2009. Oil on board, 16 x 8 inches. Courtesy of Sue Scott Gallery
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