Time After Time by Ken Weathersby at Minus Space, 16 Main Street, Suite A, Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
This is a review of an exhibition I haven’t seen. Well I haven’t seen it in person – there is a bit of an art world adage that you have to stand before great paintings to absorb them fully. To inhale the whiff of paint, to behold the smear of a precise shade of colour, decipher some infinitesimal mark, a slavish detail of the surface, to read the insights into the mystique of making only told by close observation of a dripping or crafted edge.
Well I’ve seen this exhibition of Ken Weathersby’s recent paintings through the glassy gaze of my computer screen. It’s been a portal to the show currently showing at Minus Space, a gallery in Brooklyn New York specializing in international reductive art. So, no whiff, nor revelatory oily brushstroke here. It’s a wondrous portal this rectangle of glass – a sometime window, sometime screen, through which I can view images of paintings hanging on New York walls. To those who would argue a loss of sentience in the perceptual experience, there is perhaps a corresponding heightened lucidity. The effect, while bereft of aroma and human interaction, reduces picture after picture to pictorial trope, or sign, in an experience that seems infinitely repeatable (bookmarkable). The exhibition and its works are instantly accessible, making for a democratic, flattened version of a gallery visit. Beyond medium-specificity, my virtual visit is post-media and post-gallery as I gaze through and at successive images on the flat, even, blue-lit screen.
This brings up another art world maxim, this one from the origins of modernist abstraction – and that is the measure of success in creating push and pull; that tension between surface and window on a planar surface. Intriguingly, this tense little action is enacted not only in the experience of viewing-by-screen but is also a feature of Weathersby’s work. Using the same mode of display and with a similar sense of detachment, Ken Weathersby takes images from art history books, crops and frames them through cut-out windows within his paintings. The images are of ancient sculptures – familiar to art students of Western European-derived art history – so already have an iconic quality as purveyors of noble truths – and this facilitates their interpretation as tropes or signs for ‘art’. Embedded neatly in rectangular format within the linen canvas we see a bent marble neck, a little figure bristling with fertility, a serpentine contrapposto, a tousled head of gilded curls – with all the heft and weight of the tradition of ancient sculpture. Yet their significance within the works are not as representations of things in the world, but of lineage, the passing of time, the narrative of art history and its influence now.
The placement of these collaged historical images within the picture plane, often slightly to one side, occasionally tilted, but always small, is almost deferential or humble as against the rest of the pictorial activity. Weathersby seems to use the images as vague references for his precisely drawn gridded and geometrical abstractions. These abstract patternings often pick up on a colour, aspect of form or muted palette from the image, then repeating and elaborating upon it, like a melodic variation acting as counterpoint to the image.
On the walls, the scale and format of the works seem to allude to the authority of the form of the Book, as rectangular, portable repository of knowledge. On closer inspection (zooming in) this effect is only accentuated by occasional fragments of text, Weathersby’s use of pencil lines and other visible notations of his hand. These recall the well-thumbed familiarity of a text book much in use as a reference.
An artist and reviewer, Sharon Butler (fortunate enough to visit the exhibition in person) observes that the yellowing and aged papers of the art history texts are apparent in the paintings. She notes that the effect is to convey a collapsing of three different eras; the time of the sculpture, the time of the art text and the time of Weathersby’s inclusion in his paintings. This is a really valuable insight, as many artists in their studios conduct these sorts of temporal dialogues in their heads, and Weathersby manages to so eloquently communicate that familiar referential (and reverential) process within these concise, elegant and self-contained pictures.
What is surprising, and refreshing, is the ease of juxtaposition of the figurative with the abstract. There is in the history of abstract painting as it pulled away from representation, a certain cool posture of detachment from the world. It is a posture that has resulted in art variously labelled as the non-objective, the concrete, the formalist, the minimal and the reductive. However, art history through the ages is simply intrinsic to art and artists today. So the posture is also human, reflected in the desire for solitude – whether as a reader, artist in the studio, time traveller or internet browser, and and there is much recognition, and warmth in that aspect of Ken Weathersby’s recent paintings.
– Lisa Sharp
Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and curator currently living and working in Sydney. Following an earlier career in the law, she recently attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with Honours in Painting) at the National Art School. Lisa likes to write and muse about art, art making and artists and her blog is at www.lisa-sharp.tumblr.com
(All images courtesy of Minus Space)
Ken Weathersby: Time After Time is on exhibition at Minus Space January 7 – February 25 http://www.minusspace.com/2016/11/ken-weathersby-time-after-time/
MINUS SPACE 16 Main Street, Suite A, Brooklyn, NY 11201 http://www.minusspace.com