Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Risk on the Horizon: Melissa Meyer at Lennon, Weinberg

Melissa Meyer: Recent Work at Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

January 9 to February 15, 2014
514 West 25th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212-941-0012

Melissa Meyer, Smokey, 2013. Oil on canvas, 60 x 84 inches.  Courtesy of Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.
Melissa Meyer, Smokey, 2013. Oil on canvas, 60 x 84 inches. Courtesy of Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

As a vehicle for combining color and light there is no better material means in painting than watercolor. Its properties are well documented, though that doesn’t diminish, in the right hands, its capacity to surprise. Willem de Kooning was well-acquainted with its particular qualities, valuing both its sublety and its capacity for directness; the medium fit well with his desire for a spontaneity capable of conflating lived life and studio practice. It seems this is something equally appealing to Melissa Meyer who has achieved it , arguably, without the associated drama of abstract expressionist ways. While choosing to pass on that generation’s angst, Meyer continues a tradition of abstraction without foregrounding personal struggle–which isn’t to say she in any way takes it easy. As Mary Heilmann said of her own work, there is no need to “Duke it out” with paintings as Ab-Ex artists once appeared to do. The difficulties and challenges of painting are not eschewed, as they are not necessarily a correlative of a combative or risk-filled life. As Larry Poons said, risks are better taken in painting than when crossing the road.

This exhibition, Meyer’s third at Lennon, Weinberg, makes the best possible use of a relatively narrow space that affords views of considerable distance from front to back. Groups of works encompass a range of temperature from black and white works on paper made in 2012, through paintings like Little Smokey, 2013,  that evince a relatively austere range of color, to the painting Shuffle, 2013 which is warm and expansive. Little Smokey, 2013, is a horizontal diptych whose lateral emphasis recalls the proportions of Cinemascope, an apposite association in view of the artist’s long-standing interest in cinema.  The bluish-black and violet brushed tracks have a calligraphic quality, but they are not writing per se or distinct pictograms, and describe a dry melt of turns and curves that speed up and slow down in bursts. Their episodic yet linked characteristics enfold an idea of the uneven flow of time rather as cinema can vary pace through editing. These separate yet always active passages imply and dismantle an idea of the grid using askew rectangular sections that establish an irregular and constantly changing pulse. The saturated or pale yellow, pink and off white areas join the energized armature in leaving only brief pauses for the eye to halt until continuing helter-skelter (think also of the Beatles song of the same name). Chinese landscape painting and the sculptures of David Smith both come to mind, though here any comparisons are made with the understanding that a thorough reinvention has taken place.  The changes of illumination and contrast made possible by the under-painting pull  what might otherwise be be a very frontal composition into a torqued, flickering, pulsing  set of loosely-defined  spaces that recalls the coexistence of disparate spaces and scale changes in Chinese 18th-century painting.

Melissa Meyer, Devlin, 2013. Oil on canvas, 70 x 80 inches.  Courtesy of Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.
Melissa Meyer, Devlin, 2013. Oil on canvas, 70 x 80 inches. Courtesy of Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

There are three paintings that share the same chromatic range as Little Smokey and are placed in the same area of the gallery that nonetheless diverge in subtle, exploratory ways. In the larger Smokey, (2013) the change in scale of the mosaic of compartments and the reduced contrast as well as the blurring through washed color implies changes of focus amidst a sweeping, undulating pattern of light. Meyer achieves contrast from one painting to the other though shifts in color and structure, ever mindful of the potential of discordant and disjunctive means. These means, nevertheless, unexpectedly cohere whilst not submitting to stasis.  In Devlin, (2013) for example, a painting of contrasting lushly warm and sharply cool colors, there is no predictable sequence yet overlapping and always extending riffs somehow don’t fall apart thanks to an implied melody.

With Meyer, drawing and painting play an equal role in generating her linear element – and she cannot be accused of forsaking either in not separating them. An arabesque can remain just that or it can thicken and double to become a shape. Other times areas of color are drawn over or partially cancelled out, the choice constantly varying. When it comes to her consideration of composition, spontaneity would appear to win out over structure because the hand is ahead of thought.  But there is no attendant loss of control as experience clearly informs the hand as much as it does thought. A painting always happens over a period of time: it is a time-based medium after all, a fact of which Meyer’s approach makes a virtue by repeatedly elapsing one painterly moment or relationship into the next, simultaneously exposing the process and allowing it to run backwards and forwards for the viewer. There is always discovery in Meyer’s paintings, even when there are clear horizons to head towards.

This article was updated February 14.  The exhibition under review was the artist’s third at Lennon, Weinberg, not her second as previously stated.

Melissa Meyer, Untitled, 2012.  Watercolor on paper, 7-1/8 x 10-1/4 inches.  Courtesy of Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.
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