Paintings by Pat Adams
Gatherum of Quiddities:
April 1 through June 18
“For sixty years Pat Adams has approached painting with an empiricist’s concern for the nature of visual form and the intimist’s sensibility that addresses the layered complexity of being. With abstract paintings characterized by seductive colors and richly encrusted surfaces, Pat seeks to bring from her “gatherum of quiddities” – that stew of unnamed qualities – a visual situation that bestirs contemplation.”
Pat Adams (b. 1928), That is to Say, 2010, oil, isobutyl methacrylate, pencil and crayon on paper mounted to panel, 19 x 24 inches, courtesy of the artist
From 1973 through 1976 Pat Adams was my professor at Bennington College. Pat already had 20 years of experience as a serious artist, showing in New York and collected by museums. The “landscape” for women artists was not an open one. The art world was both smaller and fairly closed to women. Things were changing, but most advances were hard won. I’m not really prepared to talk about what Pat was up against. All I can tell you is that until the 1980s, I believe, only two women had had a one person shows at the Guggenheim — Helen Frankenthaler and Helen Frankenthaler.
Seeing Pat’s paintings today I wonder why I didn’t know them better; why I wasn’t more aware of what she was thinking; what her process was; what battles she was waging on canvas. This retrospective at The Bennington Museum gave me a chance to experience her work and also see some of her materials: things she was looking at, tiny drawings she compiled endlessly in her notebooks. It was a revelation.
It was the opening night and not the best opportunity to take in the work, but at the end of the evening, when the rooms emptied, I had a moment to look closely at some of the pieces with the director of the museum, Robert Wolterstorff. I was struck by how my eyes were pulled around the canvas, how I flet moments of speed and slowness, of agitation and rest, of chaos and precision — like I was entering the universe. I wondered at the surfaces. How she achieved tiny irregularly shaped dots in a grid, how she painted a curved line that was at once as precise as a calligrapher’s curve, and yet broken in spots revealing the paint surface beneath. There was something so illogical about this line, so confounding, I couldn’t figure out how it was made.
When I was able to speak briefly with Pat during the show, she told me that some of the marks on the canvas were achieved by a kind of printing or transfer process. Painting on mylar and “stamping” it onto the canvas. But I didn’t get a chance to ask her about the lines.
Pat’s paintings are full of texture and unusual materials, mica, sand, pigment, and other minerals. Wolterstorff was most taken by this aspect of the work, which made him think of both Keifer’s straw and Beuys’ lard and felt. I forgot to mention to him that there was a Beuys exhibition at the college in the 1970s.
As we looked at the paintings, the rigor of the composition struck both of us. To me, they felt like mathematical journeys. Jamie Franklin, the curator, had displayed some things that Pat had pulled elements from — postcards of a Gothic Cathedral, the composition of an old Master painting, the shape of a sliced geode. All of these were echoed in the work.
Pat Adams’ Notebook
I believe that in the misogynistic days of the 1970s, these elements were at times dismissed as decorative. Seeing them now I know that they were no more decorative than the letters of a formula. What, after all, can be eliminated from E = mc 2 .
If you go:
75 Main Street
Bennington, VT 05201-2885
June through October:
Open daily 10 am to 5 pm
Closed July 4
November through May:
Open Thursday through Tuesday (closed Wednesday)
Closed month of January, Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day
Closes at 1 pm on December 24 and 31
A catalog will be available. Call the Museum Store 802-447-1571 to order.
A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I had sex with Frank Stella under a boardwalk on Fire Island. We were both young. When I was the age I was in the dream I did this painting — clearly the “love” child of our astral meeting:
Leslie Parke, “Primary One”, oil on canvas.
Last night I dreamed that Anish Kapoor was courting me. It was all quite elaborate. I can’t wait to see how this will show up in my work. Harold Bloom would call this the “anxiety of influence”, I call it “having sex with artists.”
Little do I remember of the astronomy lecture I attended twenty some years ago on a warm summer night in an observatory on what may be the last densely wooded tract of land in Cambridge. What I do remember is that the lecture put me in a kind of swoon. For the first time in my life, science and poetry became one. Somehow a talk on chaos theory and its relation to the order of the universe – randomness as the predictable and necessary precursor to design – had the heft and elegance and perspicacity of a poem you want to memorize or a painting you don’t want to leave.
Leslie Parke, “Road Work”, 56 inches x 43.5 inches, oil on canvas, 2014. Photo Credit: Jon Barber
Leslie Parke’s paintings live at the same intersection where patterns court chaos, abstraction approaches the figurative and stasis hovers on the cusp of implosion. Her paintings are charged by contradictions: impersonal grids softened by sunlight; watery washes with metallic spikes; a cathedral of squiggles above a perfectly triangular black hole; the aurora borealis in a zip lock bag.
Leslie Parke, “Silo”, 46 inches x 96 inches, oil on canvas, 2014.
But even contradictions are connected by themes, and what’s most striking across these disparate, spirited works is their relentless energy. This is a painter who thrashes in her sleep. And it is not merely high-powered kinesis that comes through so much as the integration of movement, color and form. It is no coincidence that the lines of “Silo” shift from vertical on the left half of the diptych to horizontal on the right; those same lines correspond with the play of light – muted to the left, increasingly luminous as the eye moves right. For all that it initially appears purely cerebral – the meticulous study of an industrial grid – the painting as a whole achieves the thrilling solace of a sunrise.
As with many artists at their performance peaks, Parke’s recent paintings seem deceptively effortless. They’re not. Go back to them; they have a lot to say.
Christopher Millis’ criticism has appeared extensively in such publications as Art News, Artspeak, The Black American and The Boston Phoenix as well as on National Public Radio. He is the former editor of artsMEDIA Magazine in Boston.
Christopher Millis‘s writing has been published, produced and broadcast widely in the United States and Europe for the last twenty years. He has authored three books of poetry: The Handsome Shackles (2002,) Impossible Mirrors (1994,) and The Diary of the Delphic Oracle (1991,) and his poems have been featured in numerous magazines and anthologies. In 1994, his translations of the Triestine poet Umberto Saba appeared as The Dark of the Sun (University Press of America,) and the first of his acclaimed translations of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “Requiem for Mohammed Al-Dura,” was published in The London Review of Books in 2000. His translation of Darwish’s “I Remember al-Sayyab” appeared in 2004 in The London Review of Books, The Daily Star, and The International Herald Tribune.
In 1979, Millis was commissioned by the Theater of the Open Eye in New York to write the libretto for Jean Erdman‘s dance opera The Shining House, a collaboration with Michael Czajkowski, Paul Jenkins and Ralph Lee. The Shining House established itself as part of the repertoire of Jean Erdman and Joseph Campbell’s Theater of The Open Eye with productions until 1984. The following year, Poems for the End of the World (1985,) choreographed by June Anderson, appeared at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio. Millis collaborated with Anderson and David Leisner on The Magnetic Properties of Moonlight at New York ‘s Dance Theater Workshop in 1986.
Millis’s one-man autobiographical play Garbage Boy, directed by Ashley Lieberman, premiered to critical acclaim in Cambridge Mass. in 2004 and was included in the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival
As I was rinsing up some pots and pans, the Cuisinart, that was whipping my black beans into soup, leapt from the counter and crashed on the floor sending copious amounts of brown sludge onto the floor, stove and walls. My first thought, as I saw this gigantic splatter was, “Is there a painting in this? Can I make art out of this?” As I sifted through my mental catalog of art that might inform this decision, I thought of Ruscha’s drawings made with mustard, catchup and other culinary items.
Ed Ruscha, Very Angry People, cherry stains on waterfall rayon
20 H x 24 W (inches), 1973
And then, when I dug out my flat pastry blade to scrape up the thick soup, I thought that this was a painting tool that Jules Olitski would appreciate. Even Walter Darby Bannard made a brief appearance, when I slid the scrapper across the floor and left thick brown lines at the edges and smears in the middle.
Jules Olitski, Shekinah Light* (1990), acrylic on canvas
Walter Darby Bannard, Old Battles
Happily, once I cleaned up the floor, stove and walls there was still enough soup left in the pot for dinner.
Ed Ruscha: In his drawings, prints, and paintings throughout the 1970s, Ruscha experimented with a range of materials including gunpowder, vinyl, blood, red wine, fruit and vegetable juices, axle grease, chocolate syrup, tomato paste, bolognese sauce, cherry pie, coffee, caviar, daffodils, tulips, raw eggs and grass stains. Stains, an editioned portfolio of 75 stained sheets of paper produced and published by Ruscha in 1969, bears the traces of a variety of materials and fluids. Ruscha has also produced his word paintings with food products on moiré and silks, since they were more stain-absorbent; paintings like A Blvd. Called Sunset (1975) were executed in blackberry juice on moiré. However, these most vibrant and varied organic colourings usually dried to a range of muted greys, mustards and browns. His portfolio Insects (1972) consists of six screen prints – three on paper, three on paper-backed wood veneer, each showing a lifelike swarm of a different meticulously detailed species. For the April 1972 cover of ARTnews, he composed a Arcimboldo-like photograph that spelled out the magazine’s title in a salad of squashed foods. [Wikipedia]
Jules Olitski evolved a radically innovative technique of laying down atmospheric blankets of colored spray on the canvas, marked at first by barely discernible straight-edged value changes near the edge of the picture and later by acrylic paint dragged along portions of the edge. He exhibited internationally in the late 1960s and was selected as one of four artists to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1966. In 1969 he was invited to exhibit large, aluminum, spray-painted sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art becoming the first living American artistto be given a one-person exhibition there.
He taught at Bennington College from 1963 to 1967.
In the 1970s Olitski returned to the thick impasto surfaces which characterized his work in the 50s but with innovative techniques that took advantage of the newly improved polymer and gel acrylic mediums. [Wikipedia]
*The Hebrew word shekinahis a feminine term for God’s transcendent presence, which doesn’t “actually descend down from heaven, but rather is described as the light that occupies everywhere.”
Walter Darby Bannard began using the new acrylic mediums in 1970 and his paintings evolved into colorful expanses of richly colored gels and polymers applied with squeegees and commercial floor brooms, which continues to the present. [Wikipedia]
Matisse, “The Serf”
Matisse’s second sculpture, The Serf, was a direct confrontation with France’s greatest living practitioner, Auguste Rodin. Its subject was César Pignatelli, nicknamed Bevilacqua, a favourite model with Rodin, who cast him over 20 years as a handsome, wolfish young John the Baptist, a gaunt, death-bound Burgher of Calais and the homicidal Count Ugolino, driven by starvation to devour his own sons. In 1900, when Pignatelli first posed for Matisse, he was simultaneously modelling for Rodin’s abortive study of the mad king Nebuchadnezzar.
Rodin, “Saint John the Baptist”
Rodin said of Pignatelli:
As soon as I saw him, I was filled with admiration; this rough, hairy man expressed violence in his bearing… yet also the mystical character of his race. I immediately thought of a Saint John the Baptist, in other words, a man of nature, a visionary, a believer, a precursor who came to announce one greater than himself. The peasant undressed, climbed onto the revolving stand as if he had never posed before; he planted himself firmly on his feet, head up, torso straight, at the same time putting his weight on both legs, open like a compass.The movement was so right, so straightforward and so true that I cried: ‘But it’s a man walking!’ I immediately resolved to model what I had seen. (Dujardin- Beaumetz, 1913).
Matisse, “Male Model”
Rodin, “Head of John the Baptist”
Video of Rodin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=32ai6cLaKGw#!
Video of Matisse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN0okOq8Hyc
Books and Videos of Interest:
Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org
Johannes Vermeer, c. 1669–70 ,Oil on canvas, 24.5 cm × 21 cm (9.6 in × 8.3 in), Louvre, Paris
Artist Christopher Benson and I were comparing notes about Manet and he mentioned seeing Vermeer’s “The Lacemaker” in Manet’s portrait of his parents that is in the Musee d’Orsay. Having read Jack Flam’s article in Artnews about the great monograph on Vermeer published in the 1870s and its influence on Manet, I was surprised that Flam didn’t mention this connection. This painting was painted too early to have been influenced by the monograph, but “The Lacemaker” is in the Louvre, where Manet undoubtedly studied it. And it would also indicate Manet’s interest in Vermeer.
Edouard Manet, M and Mme Auguste Manet, The Painter’s Parents, circa 1860s
What Christopher was seeing was the similarity in the handling of the yarn in the basket of Manet’s mother and Vermeer’s Lacemaker. I had never noticed this connection, but the minute you examine the details, it seems obvious.
Vermeer, “The Lacemaker” detail
Manet, “Portrait of his Parents”, detail
In Vermeer’s piece the use of a camera obscura influenced the in and out of focus quality of his work. While Manet was painting, photography was certainly in use, and was, in fact, used by several of the Impressionists, most notably by Degas. There is no evidence that I am aware of that Manet resorted to such devices. Here it seems more likely that he is “quoting” the handling in Vermeer. The composition doesn’t seem to refer to Vermeer, although of all the Vermeer’s, it is his religious painting “In the House of Mary and Martha” that seems most like the Manet.
Vermeer, “In the House of Mary and Martha”
Christopher and I both enjoy searching for what I call “artist DNA”, the lines of influence that not only go from one artist to another, but between works of art that are at times separated by centuries.
Christopher Benson will be having a retrospective at Cushing Memorial Building on the museum grounds at 76 Bellevue Ave. in Newport, Rhode Island. The show runs from September 29th. I am sure that you will find plenty of “artist DNA” in his work!
Christopher Benson, “Tiverton Interior”
Books of Interest: