Spring 2010

Larry Poons: Reaction to Color

By Linnea Kniaz

At a lecture following the opening reception of “Larry Poons: Recent Paintings” at the Esther Massry Gallery at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, the seventy-three year old esteemed abstract painter Larry Poons proclaimed, “the trick is to let it happen and not get in the way because that’s what stops it.” Referring to his process that encourages a constantly evolving body of work, Poons rejects learning, problem solving, and choosing results and, instead, advocates artistic improvement through accepting one’s unexpected mistakes.

As a fearless and uncompromising artist, in the 1960’s Poons abandoned his critically acclaimed and nancially supportive practice of painting elliptical dots on monochromatic canvases. This allowed him to produce a diverse range of works culminating in these most recent paintings now on display at Esther Massry. Considered by Poons as a “collection of mistakes,” these large acrylic paintings on canvas appear “overloaded” with vigorous strokes of vivid colors. Despite his diminutive stature and irregular stride, at the lecture Poons zealously enlightened the predominantly student audience, oering insight into the mind of this long-standing and still ourishing artist.

While divulging his favorite artists (including Paul Cézanne and Fernand Léger), advising art students to paint what they can paint rather than what they want to paint, and—on occasion—responding belligerently to the audience’s questions, Poons dened the practice of painting: “It all comes from color. It all comes from our reaction to color.” Although germane to all painting, color, or light, seemingly transcends a mere characteristic of these latest works and actually becomes their subject matter.

Echoing the artist’s animated demeanor, his eleven works on view emanate vitality. Nevertheless, viewers do not feel overwhelmed. Whether inuenced by the gallery’s layout or gallery director Jeanne Flanagan’s curatorial decisions, which acted in accordance to Poons’s vision, viewers resist the arbitrary pull of each work. Rather, moving systematically from the left of the gallery’s entrance and around its perimeter, one’s mind falls into a tranquil rapture. As a consequence of this state of mind, viewers overcome the congested homogeny of innumerable minute marks on the surfaces and actually contemplate each work—and each mark—thus taking pleasure in imagining Poons developing an entire work, stroke by stroke.

The first seven paintings, created between 2004 and 2008, reverberate in an amalgamation of colors and brushstrokes. His 2008 Salley Gardens embodies certain qualities apparent in these rst works. When one approaches the work and gets lost in its mass of color, these patterns transpire. Despite the work’s seeming consistency, the marks represent dichotomy: dry, crayonlike streaks and glistening globs, organic, eroded shapes and linear dashes, delicate, bleeding washes and purposefully dened lines, splatter and stroke, isolated and coalesced, iridescent and opaque, exposed canvas and paint. When experiencing the work in its entirety from a distance, however, one observes full shapes and color groupings of Permanent greens and cool and warm hues.

The marks then become less interesting and one can, with pleasure, experience only color. Following these works, the 2009 La Famiglia marks a transition. In primarily muted washes and with exposed canvas and larger shapes, this work distinguishes itself from the others. Forms are easily apparent, even from a close proximity, thus, a viewer can understand how a family of gures, as the title suggests, unexpectedly presented themselves to the artist. Farther around the gallery’s perimeter, the 2008 Lamplighter, also exemplies Poons’s freedom to accept the unexpected. With Phthalo and Ultramarine blue painted on two-thirds of the canvas’s surface underneath his characteristic brush marks, viewers can nally rest their eyes on a dark, concrete form and prepare to depart from these anthologies of light.

After exploring each painting, analyzing each mark, and searching for answers, however, I suggest that viewers abandon this learning, problem solving, and obsession with results and consider Poons’s advice: Let the works happen without getting in the way. Whether believing they are ‘collections of mistakes’ or anthologies of light, simply accept the paintings as they are and react to the color. Continue reading

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Spring 2010

Local Alumni: Creating a New Future

By Chloe Nash
For most studio art majors, the rst year out of college is a blank canvas – a time for serious consideration, planning, and often crises. Liz Wilson and Patrick Phelan are an exception. The couple graduated from Skidmore in the spring of 2009 and have remained in Saratoga Springs to work and make art. Their decision to stay was a good one; both artists now feature work at a new gallery in town, House of Creative Soul on Van Dam.

Owned and directed by Jessica Golden, the gallery is a fresh addition to the Saratoga Art District. Wilson and Phelan, both painters, feature work in a show called Creative Mediums. The show consists of a wide array of local artists, of which Phelen and Wilson are the youngest. Their age, however, is not visible in their art. Their paintings seamlessly blend into the sophisticated and innovative energy that the gallery houses.

Although both artists use oil paint, their pieces are drastically dierent in form and concept. Wilson’s three paintings at the gallery are all abstract, dominated by bright colors and bold shapes. “My paintings are about the connections between humans,” she claims. “Communication precedes and surpasses language, and this is portrayed in my paintings.” Her use of color is extraordinary, which she explains was a result of her studying in Ghana, where her color palette was brightened. She believes her aesthetic change had to do with the brightly colored textiles that were prominent in the region.

For Phelen, the most striking aspect of his paintings is not his colors, but his materials. Patrick paints landscape and sunrise/sunset paintings on full-length mirrors, sporadically leaving areas blank to reect a gleam. From across the gallery, his paintings looked like a series of three rectangular pieces, horizontally hung. But up close, one can perceive the splotches of bright reection, as well as the traditional boarder that jets across full-length mirrors. Phelen expresses a desire to take stronger notice of his constantly changing environment. “This means seeing ourselves in this habitat at all times,” he explains. “Even when we are at the mirror in the bathroom, we are not hidden from the spectacle that is this world.”

For artists of any age, Wilson and Phelen’s current circumstance is important to note for a couple of reasons. To begin with, their prompt success ought to inspire studio arts majors and discourage them from fretting about their future! This creative couple is only one example of many Skidmore alumni that has continued pursuing art in their post- college life. Even more importantly, Wilson and Phelen’s presences in House of Creative Soul strongly suggest that Saratoga Springs is bubbling with artistic resources to explore and embrace. Continue reading