Upcoming at the Jones Center
The Contemporary Austin presents the first monographic museum survey of the paintings of Garth Weiser (American, born 1979 in Helena, Montana). Spanning the last decade of the artist’s output and comprising twenty-two works on both floors of the museum’s downtown Jones Center galleries, this exhibition highlights key moments in Weiser’s recent oeuvre and illustrates an evolution in his exploration of abstract painting. Garth Weiser: Paintings, 2008–2017 is accompanied by a 128-page full-color, hardbound exhibition catalogue, which includes texts on the artist from exhibition curator Louis Grachos, Ernest and Sarah Butler Executive Director and CEO of The Contemporary Austin; Heather Pesanti, Senior Curator of The Contemporary Austin; and Charles Wylie, Curator of Photography and New Media at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In his catalogue essay, “Unknown Pleasures,” Grachos remarks on the unique experience of becoming immersed in Weiser’s paintings, noting, “Weiser’s work is evidence that each generation produces a small but innovative group of artists who find new ways to advance the tradition of abstraction in painting, and that, contrary to the oft-heard art historical pronouncement, painting will never be ‘dead.’”
Raised in Tempe, Arizona, by parents who are both working ceramicists, in the early 2000s Weiser moved to New York, where he is currently based, to study art at Cooper Union (BFA 2003) and then Columbia University (MFA 2005). His early paintings are hard-edged and graphic—triangles, circles, and hexagons on flat picture planes hint at delineations of depth and space. These canvases recall the flat geometric abstraction of the midcentury Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy, but with Weiser’s characteristically wry appropriation of the clunky visual culture and logos of twenty-first-century corporate capitalism.
Weiser’s paintings are indebted to the canon of midcentury Abstract Expressionists—not only Jackson Pollock but also Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still—yet his persistent exploration of this relationship between foreground and background locates the works in the present day. Described by the artist as “pin-striped” (like a classic wool suit) or covered in an allover “interference pattern,” Weiser’s paintings are difficult to focus the eyes on, and even more challenging to photograph. Indeed, the power of Weiser’s paintings lies in the necessity of seeing them up close and in person. His work resists the kind of quickly digested photography that permeates contemporary culture. There is constant sublimation, as if changes in the physical state of the canvas continually occur when one tries to focus on the static image of the painting amidst its vibratory optical effect. The result is that Weiser’s work cannot be captured or understood in a digital social media moment, nor is it possible to instantly deduce how his paintings are made—by man or machine? As Pesanti notes, in the exhibition’s catalogue, of the present moment in contemporary painting: “Perhaps we are approaching painting’s era of Blade Runner (the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), in which the mechanical (or digital, in this case) can only be deduced through elaborate tests.”
In the artist’s early period, the late 2000s, one element of geometry appeared with increasing regularity: the thin, repetitive line. The painting titled I wouldn’t have worn mascara if I knew I was going to be taking a trip down memory lane, 2008, bookends The Contemporary Austin exhibition as the earliest work on view, and is the key to a significant transformation in the artist’s work. Here the steadfastly geometric presence of a dark hexagon is activated by the optical stutter of cerulean blue stripes radiating from the painting’s center in sharply delineated segments. Unexpectedly, the geometric edges are not crisp: furry tendrils of color sneak outside of their lines like iron filings seeking a magnetic pole.
The paintings that follow chronologically explore the optical sensation of vibratory, close-knit patterns set against rich color contrasts. Vivid works like Tahitian Moon and Played at Low Volume, both 2011, chart Weiser’s intensely focused analysis of a visual space within painting that exists on two planes: one that resides closest to the painting’s support (the under-painting), and one that sits nearest to the viewer (the over-painting). The effects achieved are reminiscent of the works of a generation of Op artists who rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, such as John Armleder, John McHale, Bridget Riley, Julian Stanczak, Victor Vasarely, and Jack Whitten. However, in Op Art it is the flatness of the tightly patterned surface that supplies the dizzying illusion, while for Weiser, the layered dimensionality of his surfaces achieves a similarly arresting effect. This act of layering—quite physical in its presence—is produced by the artist’s application of slender intersecting lines of oil paint that form a scrim on the work’s surface. Oftentimes the under-painting is highlighted by the artist’s incisions into the over-painting, a surface removal process much like the technique of sgraffito in ceramics. The visual result is akin to the rainbow slick of oil on water or the wavering effects of a striped shirt viewed on a television screen—the overlaid patterns generating a disorienting moiré.
The artist’s most recent works reveal yet another chapter in Weiser’s aesthetic evolution. A dramatic increase in scale has the effect, in person, of capturing the eye in a roiling sea of unrelenting, irregular pattern. In contrast to Weiser’s earlier works, the gestural under-painting is given more prominence in paintings such as 8 and 17, both 2015, revealing the graphic influence of the artist’s interest in comics and the psychedelic culture of the 1970s rock scene. As asymmetrical clusters of expressive lines swing crisply into view, the shuddering interference pattern on the surface becomes aural in its presence, a twist on the anthropomorphic sound waves in Walt Disney’s animated Fantasia, 1940. It seems almost possible to strum these paintings, in which a resonant sound could reverberate just below the surface—recalling the deep, dark volume beneath the strings of an acoustic guitar. In orchestral synchronicity, Weiser’s patterned stripes provide the bass line, a firm and structural rhythm in counterpoint to the leading melody of the fluid under-paintings.
This exhibition is curated by Louis Grachos, Ernest and Sarah Butler Executive Director and CEO of The Contemporary Austin, with Julia V. Hendrickson, Assistant Curator. Text is by Hendrickson.
Garth Weiser: Paintings, 2008–2017 is accompanied by a 128-page full-color, hardbound exhibition catalogue, published by The Contemporary Austin, April 2017.
Garth Weiser Catalogue and Exhibition Support: Anonymous, Charles Balbac, Charles W. Banta, Christopher Bass, Nathalie and Charles de Gunzburg, Jennifer and John Eagle, Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill, Horizon Bank, Roberta and Michael Joseph, Agnes and Edward Lee, Jody and Gerald Lippes, Nancy Nasher and David Haemisegger, Diana Nelson and John Atwater, Gayle and Paul Stoffel, Vision Fund Leaders and Contributors. Special thanks to Casey Kaplan, New York.
Members are invited to join us to preview and celebrate our spring 2017 exhibitions by artists Garth Weiser, Mark Lewis, Lionel Maunz, and Anya Gallaccio.