SUMMER OF COLOR: The Artist’s Toolkit

Summer of Color- Matthews Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico

Santa Fe’s Summer of Color officially began on Memorial Day, and we’re busy preparing our contribution to the city-wide cultural celebration. This special collaboration between the city’s top museums, galleries, restaurants and hotels showcases the vibrant array of colors that the City Different has to offer. Many participants picked specific hues to feature: the International Folk Art Museum took red, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture has turquoise and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art settled on indigo and cobalt blue.

At Matthews Gallery, we decided to showcase an enormous array of colors for our special exhibition The Artist’s Toolkit: New Mexico Artists at Work. The show features rare artifacts of legendary New Mexico artists next to their work, giving visitors insight into the complex process of conceptualizing, mixing and applying color.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view Tommy Macaione’s paint palette, William Lumpkins’ brushes, Alfred Morang’s notes on color, Arthur Haddock‘s pigment bottles and other behind-the-scenes ephemera from Santa Fe private collections.

Scroll down for a preview of these fascinating fragments from New Mexico history, and make sure to attend the opening this Friday, June 5 from 5-7 pm.  Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates on Summer of Color.

Tommy Macaione- Paint Palette- Matthews Gallery Blog

Tommy Macaione’s Paint Palette

Leon Gaspard- Easel- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

 

Leon Gaspard’s Easel 

Arthur Haddock- Pigment and Oil Bottles- Matthews Gallery Blog

Arthur Haddock’s Pigment and Oil Bottles

Alfred Morang- Sketchbook Teaching Notes- Matthews Gallery Blog

 Alfred Morang’s Teaching Notes

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OUTSIDER/INSIDER: Abstract Expressionism at Matthews Gallery

Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell at Matthews Gallery Boxer (left) and Motherwell

It was Mark Rothko’s 111th birthday this Friday, and the occasion has us pondering one of the 20th century’s most polarizing art movements: abstract expressionism.

Three artworks by renowned abstract expressionists have recently landed on our walls. The first two are heavily impastoed oil paintings by Stanley Boxer, who resolutely clung to the far fringes of the movement. Determined to defy labels, he was furious when art critic Clement Greenberg called him a color field painter, and yet the arc of his creative explorations closely paralleled that of his abstract expressionist contemporaries:

In the manufacture of my art, I use anything and everything which gets the job done without any sentiment or sanctity as to medium. Then, too, I have deliberately made a practice of being “visionless”… this is, I go where my preceding art takes me, and never try to redirect the future as to what my art should look like. This is a general credo and foundation for everything I have ever done and stands firm in its solidity as this is written.

Boxer, who died in 2000, would have loved Grace Glueck’s New York Times review of a 2004 exhibition of his late works. She notes that he was “never part of a movement or trend,” but rather driven by paint’s “physical possibilities without script or program.”

Abstract Paintings by Stanley Boxer- Matthews Gallery Blog Atriumofashreddednight  (top) and Crisppitchofsigh, Oil on Linen

Glueck ends the piece with a brief analysis of Boxer’s titles, lyrical lists of words that are jammed together in unbroken strings. The works in our collection, for example, have names that read like fragments of beat poems: Atriumofashreddednight and Crisppitchofsigh. Glueck writes, “As Boxer joked in his titles, these canvases, more than most, do not really lend themselves to verbal exposition. They live for the eye, to which they bring deep satisfaction.”

Boxer’s titles provide a link to Robert Motherwell, the other abstract expressionist represented in our collection. Unlike many “abex” artists who labeled their canvases using dates or arbitrary numbers, Boxer and Motherwell were unapologetic in their wordplay.

That’s where the similarity ends. While Boxer considered himself an isolated frontiersman of abstract painting, Motherwell was an eager icon of abstract expressionism. He coined the term ‘New York School’ to describe his revolutionary circle, which included Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and acted as a spokesperson for the movement in the world of academia.

If Boxer’s titles were little more than impressionistic quips, Motherwell, who was a scholar before he became a “serious artist” and wrote numerous essays on aesthetics, chose names that have inspired endless analysis. His most famous series of paintings, Elegies to the Spanish Republic, chronicles the Spanish Civil War in bold strokes of black and white and subtle passages of ochre, blue, green and red.

Mainly, I use each color as simply symbolic: ochre for the earth, green for the grass, blue for the sky and sea,” Motherwell wrote. “I guess that black and white, which I use most often, tend to be protagonists.” In varying contexts, each color holds a universe of meanings. To fully understand the use of ochre in Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies, “You would have to know that a Spanish bull ring is made of sand of an ochre color,” the artist wrote.  Other works that feature ochre, like Western Air or Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White, would naturally spark different associations. 

Robert Motherwell- Africa 4- Silkscreen- Matthews Gallery Blog Robert Motherwell, Africa 4, Silkscreen

What to make of our Motherwell silkscreen, titled Africa 4? Motherwell completed the Africa suite in 1970, the same year he created his Basque and London suites. They were his first projects entirely devoted to silkscreens, and a divergence from the heavily layered nuances of his oil paintings. Here his black abstract forms stand crisply against their off-white backgrounds, although on closer inspection, their tumultuous edges still seem to weave in an out of focus.

“All my works [consist] of a dialectic between the conscious (straight lines, designed shapes, weighed color, abstract language) and the unconscious (soft lines, obscured shapes, automatism) resolved into a synthesis,” the artist wrote in 1944.

Motherwell first explored the concepts of automatism and the subconscious with a group of Parisian Surrealists, including Duchamp, Ernst and Masson, who had fled Europe during World War II.  Their ideas would help shape the spiritual side of abstract expressionism, a spontaneous, intuitive element that Motherwell carefully balanced with his more intellectual inclinations.

Motherwell’s connection to the Surrealists lends us a potential clue to the significance of the ‘Africa’ title. In his 1946 essay ‘Beyond the Aesthetics‘, Motherwell discusses the life of French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, who helped inspire Surrealism. In the final decades of his life Rimbaud quit writing and set off on an African expedition, a leap of faith that Motherwell compares to the Surrealists’ break from Dada and formation of a new movement:

Like Rimbaud before them, the Surrealists abandoned the aesthetic altogether; it takes a certain courage to leave poetry for Africa (as Rimbaud did, fh). They revealed their insight as essentially moral in never forgetting for a moment that most living is a process of conforming to an established order which is inhuman in its drives and consequences. Their hatred sustained them through all the humiliating situations in which the modern artist find himself, and led them to conceptions beyond the reach of more passive souls. For them true ‘poetry’ was freedom from mechanical social responses. No wonder they loved the work of children and the insane – if not the creatures themselves.

Perhaps Motherwell’s Africa suite represents a similar journey, a leap into the unknown that is a clear break from previous adventures. Just as Rimbaud abandoned an intellectual pursuit for one centered on travel and action, and as the Surrealists broke from the societal battles of the Dadaists to explore dreamscapes, so Motherwell’s stark Africa forms landed him in a new realm of image-making. Perhaps he sought to prove that even the most distinctly divided blacks and whites could possess endless shades of grey.

Learn more about Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell on our website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for more gallery news.

NEW IN THE GALLERY: The evolution of David Grossmann

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Almost” by David Grossmann

David Grossmann always knew he wanted to be an artist. Even before his first painting lessons with his grandmother at 10 years old, he was an avid sketcher, filling notebooks with intricate drawings of dragons and the floor plans of medieval castles. By 16, David was taking portrait commissions and doing book illustrations for a publishing company. Still, he couldn’t quite discern a path that would turn his passion into something more.

“I didn’t know how to get there as far as making a living as a professional artist,” the 29-year-old says. Finding that bridge would take a while, but it’s safe to say that he’s officially crossed it. We’re proud to be the first gallery to represent David and his work. It’s just the latest high point in an already impressive artistic career.

David was born in the United States and moved to Chile when he was two years old. It’s a place of stunning, harsh natural beauty that would inspire in David a lifelong passion for the outdoors. His grandmother was a landscape painter who lived in El Paso, Texas. When they saw each other, she would teach him oil painting techniques with a brush and palette knife.

When David was 14, the family decided to relocate to Colorado. It was a move that the teenager fiercely resisted.

“When we left, I didn’t say goodbye because I hadn’t accepted that we weren’t going back,” he says. “I’m sure for anyone, being 14 is probably a tough age. On top of that, adjusting to a new culture and new everything was really difficult.”

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Away” by David Grossmann

The move marked a big shift in David’s art. Not long after he arrived the young artist started receiving requests for commissions, and he enrolled in his first formal drawing classes with artist Valorie Snyder. His grandmother was an art director of a Christian publishing company and gave him a job illustrating Bible study curriculums.

“It became more of an outlet for me than it had been before,” David says. “It was a lot more serious, a lot more figurative works. I also started drawing more landscapes at that point.”

Despite his early success, David still didn’t see art as a viable career. In college he studied business and Spanish, focusing primarily on his studies instead of his artwork. During his last year at university, struck by the fear of being trapped in a cubicle, he finally committed to giving art school a shot.

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“When Leaves are Falling”, David Grossmann

At the Colorado Academy of Art, David learned classical painting techniques and took his first plein air painting class.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors, but until I took that class I felt like I couldn’t contain the landscape. It’s so huge, and I didn’t know how to make it into a composition,” he says. After he learned how to capture the beauty of nature on canvas, he knew that he’d be doing little else in his work. “That combination of being outdoors and painting, which were two of my favorite things, were just perfect for me,” he says.

Three years after David enrolled at the art academy, it abruptly closed. The artist once again found himself full of doubt; he’d learned a lot about painting, but he wasn’t sure how to sell his work. That’s when he started an apprenticeship with artist Jay Moore.

“In art school, my training was very much based on technique but not a lot on the professional side of things,” David says. Being in Moore’s studio gave him a window into the life of a working artist, and showed him that a fine art career was possible. “I didn’t know how long it would take to get there, but I knew that I could get there,” he says. “I remember being so excited. I’d been thinking about and dreaming about this for most of my life.”

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Over the Aspens”, David Grossmann

Since then, David has developed a unique style that the artist calls “visual poetry”. Using a gentle, glowing palette, he paints abstracted visions of forests that are melodic in their focus on rhythm and symmetry. Sprawling swaths of landscape transform into flat, smooth planes while scattered trees lend a profound sense of depth. These contrasting perspectives set the works slightly off-balance, sending the eye on an endless quest to consolidate them. The compositions may seem serene, but they contain the same mysterious kinetic energy that tugs our eye from one stanza of a poem to the next.

“I think both poetry and paintings can capture an essence of something and stir emotion and imagination at a very deep level,” David says. “In some ways it’s very simplified and thought out, but hopefully it reaches to that level that connects with someone’s heart.”

David has since shown his work in many exhibitions, including national shows sponsored by Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society, and Salon International. Southwest Art Magazine featured him as an “Artist to Watch” and his work has been featured in Plein Air Magazine and American Art Collector Magazine.

The artist is also an avid traveler, and has journeyed with sketchbook in hand through the Western United States, Eastern Europe, Africa and Central America. In 2011, he finally had the chance to return to Chile. He saw old friends and spent 11 days backpacking through Patagonia in Southern Chile. It was the first time he’d brought along a full painting set on a trip.

“It’s very rugged country and I was carrying a backpack that weighed over 60 pounds,” David says. “Having to paint under those circumstances where there’s just forceful gusts of wind nonstop, it really made me appreciate that every painting is a miracle. It brought out a new level of confidence in my work.”

David had come full circle. He left Chile as a child and returned as an artist.

Click here to see more of David Grossmann’s work, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for subsequent updates.