“Each form is free and individual. Each form is a world,” wrote Kazimir Malevich in his 1915 manifesto declaring Suprematism the future of painting. In that same year, Malevich went on to paint Black Square, what would become the iconic centerpiece of a brief Russian movement built upon a newfound attention to purity of form. Recent Rhode Island School of Design graduate Alex Markwith wrote his senior thesis on Malevich’s Black Square. It makes sense, when you look at Markwith’s work. He shows an affinity for the same fundamental geometry that drove Malevich and his Suprematist contemporaries.
Nicelle Beauchene Gallery presents the artist’s first solo show aptly entitled New Black. The gallery calls the collection a project series, rather than a show in a traditional sense, a distinction that frames the young artist’s work in an interesting context. Markwith’s constructions, as he titles them, possess a transparency of process that emphasizes each and every element of his varied materials. Roughly rendered acrylic paint layers on top of found tire rubber or metal, on top of corrugated cardboard or a wooden frame, Markwith brings an almost Suprematist attention to the solid materiality of his fodder, outlining the textural presence of each element. The works blur the line between sculpture and painting, referring to traditions of assemblage and collage in their mixed media nature. Yet, as much as we are forced to think about every curve of wire, each strip of fabric, and each individual stroke of paint, the components meld together to form refreshingly compact pieces. Each construction is a complete sentence, as Markwith is able to render what Malevich would call a “world” within in each form.
Markwith’s series of constructions adhere incredibly closely to the monochrome promise of the show’s title, and the subtleties of the many variations on his theme truly do present a new take on color, form, and material. Each work reveals a nuanced version of his general inclination towards pure geometry and a limited tonal palette. The difference may come in a break from the rectangular form, a stray element jutting out of the main compositional frame, or a peek of real or implied negative space. Within the New Black series, Markwith presents a quiet unified study, with whispers of dissonance in precise formal and material details. It is precisely because of the hushed presence, the controlled gamut of tone and media, that the works resonate.
Images: Construction No. 5 (Mostly Black), 2011. Mixed media with ring and stretcher bars. 14 x 14 inches; Construction No. 2 (Mostly Black Box), 2011. Cardboard, acrylic, fabric, nails over stretcher bars. 12.5 x 9.25 inches; Construction No. 4, 2011. Acrylic, fabric, nails, wood, metal. 17.5 x 10.5 inches. Courtesy of Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York.