In this exhibit of 15 paintings and 10 drawings, Tomma Abts re-examines geometric abstraction in works that reveal the process as well as the final conclusion. Through both layering and erasure, she builds up the surfaces of her paintings with acrylic and oil, leaving traces of each meticulous move. She uses no external images, and therefore does not abstract from anything: the lines themselves seem to search and seek for their ultimate forms. Abts has said of her own work, "The forms don't symbolize anything or describe anything outside of the painting. They represent themselves." *
Within these investigations of both color and space, incredibly subtle shifts create dramatic effects. Her masterful use of color, displayed in a dull vibrancy, is articulated with a careful juxtaposition of drab colors that unexpectedly evokes brilliancy. The dullness of her palette makes a modest shade of forest green glisten; the simplicity of her shapes makes each fold and curve remarkable; and the sensitive refinement of shades and shadows brings these understated, and at times rigid, paintings to life. The active quality of Tomma Abts's work arises, perhaps unexpectedly, from the starkness and subtlety of contrasting colors, the shallow dimensions of unanticipated depths, and the delicate shading that highlights the in-between and the behind.
The inclusion of the set of drawings at The Hammer Museum, which did not appear in The New Museum's exhibit earlier this year, is a significant addition that emphasizes Abts's process and use of space. These single-layered line compositions reveal the ways in which her work examines shapes that "represent themselves." Compositionally, each drawing explores new space on the page; the lines find corners to explore, ledges to fall over, and edges to retreat from. The asymmetrical position of canvasses in the elegant gallery mirrors the thoughtful process of the work itself. The generous spacing of each piece emphasizes that, despite an apparent coherency, each work stands on its own and requires individual space and attention. With unequalled clarity, Abts explains, "Though I give some forms a sculptural definition, I then contradict it again, to keep every part of the painting space engaged in some ambiguous connectedness." *
Tomma Abts was born in Kiel, Germany in 1967 and currently lives and works in London.
* Tomma Abts, in a conversation with Peter Doig published in The Wrong Times (New York: Wrong Gallery, 2004)