Sunday, October 28, 2018

Mary Weatherford, I've Seen Gray Whales Go By @ Gagosian New York

Mary Weatherford, The Gate, 2018
Despite the narrative titles of Weatherford’s works, it’s difficult to see past the overwhelming physicality of painting that is everywhere present in these latest paintings. The result being that they work equally as abstract and figurative canvases. On entering the gallery, we come face to face with Cock Robin (2018), and are drawn in by the large swathes of green paint that have been applied to the canvas with a sponge. Weatherford likens her process “to that of a child playing with silt in the bottom of a rain puddle,” and it’s not hard to imagine her moving the paint energetically over and around the canvas. Each enormous gestural mark is executed in a colour that is typically kept separate from the others, spanning a range from dense dark concentrations of paint to transparent washes. Interestingly, the paint at its darkest and densest is never thicker, only darker, thanks to do Weatherford’s process of pouring water on the canvas before adding pigment, and then working the colour around and over the surface. 

Mary Weatherford, 2018 (2018) 
As I say, Weatherford’s body is always present to these huge paintings that she created specifically for Gagosian’s flagship New York space. While the application of paint appears smooth and continuous, each gesture reveals the physical effort involved in the often full body-sized sweeps. In some cases, we see traces of her hand having manipulated the paint. Looking at the fluid curvaceous marks on the canvas, it’s not just the presence of the artist, but the enormous energy of painting, the physical demands of interacting with paint on canvas that are revealed. This energy and strength in the application and motion of paint makes Weatherford’s work more contemporary than Mitchell’s paintings. If for no other reason that the expanse of the application of paint require huge canvases—a sign of their contemporaneity—appearing at home in the converted parking garage that is Gagosian's gallery space.

Mary Weatherford, Cock Robin, 2018
And then, across, down, or around the very painterly expressionist, coloured gestures Weatherford places a neon light of a different colour. The neon works all at once to rupture, illuminate, to violate and to rationalize the painterly expression. And at the same time, the neon is another colour, functioning as another application of paint. Visitors will be reminded of Dan Flavin’s neon tubes responding to their environment by changing colour and forcing our confrontation with our own vision. But Weatherford’s use of neon is different because the thin glass tubes are strategically laid on paintings, not on walls and floors. Similarly, the neon never erases or invalidate the painting, rather it ruptures, creates conflict, always maintaining the principles of interaction.

Mary Weatherford, I've Seen Gray Whales Go By
Installaton @ Gagosian
Together with the neon, Weatherford exposes the electrical wires that lead to the neon, extending paint and colour beyond the four sides of the frame. The wires create patterns as the works spill out onto the shiny gallery floor. This gesture is an extension of painting into our space, the real, three-dimensional world. The painting is thus engage in this process of mirroring and doubling, while at the same time technology has colonized painting as representation.

Mary Weatherford, GLORIA, 2018

Coming back to the narrative titles, the works reminded me of nature interrupted or violated by technology. It’s difficult not to see a forest of trees in 2018 (2018) or The Gate (2018). In these paintings, the colour green in all its variations verges into black and blue, as if taking us further and further into a lush forest. They do not seem to be representative of an actual place, but are more likely exploring the feeling of being in nature. The single line of blue neon becomes like an incision, its colour bleeding over its edges to taint the forest. The choice of the neon colour is everything; blue cuts through the forest, a soft pink and baby blue come together to create a gentler, nevertheless, still disruptive ethereality on a diluted red surface on another canvas. While the stark contrast of the blue on green and white on red creates violence and rupture, the pinks are absorbed by the delicate colours around them. 
And so, for her first big show in a blue chip New York gallery, Weatherford has exhibited an impressive selection of works. Certainly, she is an artist who deserves to be moving up in the estimation of the art world.

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