Exhibition | THE LAST GESTURE | Essay

 

As a working art critic for over two decades, I continue to be fascinated by the faith that many painters put in the idea of “the mark”, which, when expanded pictorially, becomes “the gesture”. This faith persists at a time when the Internet, Facebook and other instant communications devices make abstraction more reductive and visually insignificant by denying the uniqueness of any one painterly expression.

It is not just the old white male artists whom I have hung out with since the 1960s: they were suckled on artists like Larry Poons, Jack Bush and Jules Olitski in art school then, believing in the gesture when the wider world was celebrating the commercial ironies of Pop, the same Pop aesthetic which dominates media culture today. To the contrary, my younger female artist friends are also disposed to the wash, the arc, the undulation and other gestural conceits. Indeed, there seems to be more abstract drawing being done now than ever, despite the fact that, to quote my critical colleague Jerry Saltz from a recent “New York” magazine review of MoMA’s AbEx survey show, “Abstract Expressionism died in 1960.”

One reason, the gesture resists elimination is mathematical. As any structural engineer will tell you, there must be an algorithmic variation in a construction, a lee way, to prevent disaster from occurring. Within painting, the gesture confirms an ancient analog way of looking at the canvas as an escape hatch from the specific visual references of the digital world. The gesture is also a bond of freedom between artist and viewer: just as the artist explores his or her own subconscious within various gestures as a means of escape from specific visual references, so the viewer of gesture can breathe with abstraction, see the mark in different ways and come to a familiar work one has purchased with new freshness every day.

Thanks to David Hall, a true believer in the continuity of gesturalism, I have the freedom to present these 7 artist of the mark to you. They range from old friends like George Negroponte, whose move to Stockholm changed his entire sense of visual topography and Jim Angell, a shy and sly manipulator of the line and grid, to new companions like Emily Weiskopf, mistress of the arc as it relates to all variety of space, and Virva Hinnemo, whose mournful washes appear to wipe away gesture forever. Ilse Murdoch echoes Virva in creating a lake of murky color, inviting you tp spy the implication of a line at your leisure, while Melinda Hackett refines the gestural ball into an invocation of microscopic space as the last refuge of color. Finally, there’s Matt Magee, whose every piece is a different homage to a different gesture and whose work, at least to my mind, somewhat encapsulates the efforts of his fellow artists in the show.

- Charles Finch


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