David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by James Welling, on view at the gallery’s 533 West 19th Street space. This will be the photographer’s fifth solo
show at the gallery.
Overflow is comprised of three distinct but related bodies of work, all of which explore photography’s hybrid relationship to painting. In Wyeth, Welling traveled to Maine and Pennsylvania in pursuit of the subjects and places painted by American artist Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009). While the project started in 2010, its origins date back to Welling’s early years as an artist, when Wyeth was a major source of inspiration.
Welling was interested equally in the biographical significance of Wyeth’s subject matter and in tracing the origins of how he came to photography. As he noted in a recent interview with Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, the Wyeth project permitted him to uncover pictorial devices he had unconsciously adopted from the painter. Wyeth’s work inspired him “to look very closely at things, to be intense, to be very focused.” Wyeth, in turn, goes beyond the straightforward question of influence to engage with the complex relationship between the photographic image and its referent, which here constitutes both Wyeth’s paintings and the literal subjects and locations in front of Welling’s camera.
While several of the photographs are based directly on Wyeth’s compositions, determining what was, and what was not, a Wyeth subject became a multi-layered project. Other photographs depart from a visual resemblance to the painter’s work and depict his studio, the ruins of a church that was still in use when Wyeth painted it, steel hooks protruding from the ceiling of a farmhouse where he often worked, an aging apple orchard, and in Welling’s own words, a “clump of grass that reminded me of Wyeth’s dry brush drawing Grasses (1941).” Broader issues of temporality, aging, and creative renewal are evoked, while the photographs simultaneously trace Wyeth’s oeuvre and open up to a unique understanding of Welling’s own practice.
Welling’s interest in the subtle relationships formed within his works is further explored in Fluid Dynamics, a group of photograms created by exposing wet photographic paper to light from a color enlarger. The colors in these works were created by sampling selected colors in the Wyeth photographs and “mapping” them onto digital files of the photograms using gradient maps in Adobe Photoshop. Fluid Dynamics resemble watercolors, a medium the photographer explored at
the onset of his career. In his interview with Hickson, Welling also pointed out how his “physical relationship with the medium, the literal and figurative fluidity of watercolor, caries over into how I work with photography as a malleable medium.” Since the late 1990’s, Welling has used photograms to underscore his interest in the “photographic” over “photographs,” pictures made using a camera and lens.
Also on view are a selection of gelatin silver prints from Frolic Architecture (2010), Welling’s collaborative project with the poet Susan Howe. These images were produced from original photograms created by painting on thin sheets of mylar that were contact printed on photographic paper. As with Fluid Dynamics, light, pigment, transparency, and fluidity take on an almost sculptural presence, while also reinforcing a painterly impulse.
James Welling was born in 1951 in Hartford, Connecticut, and lives and works in Los Angeles. He received his B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. His work has been represented by David Zwirner, New York, since 2005. Welling is Area Head of Photography at UCLA and in the Fall of 2012 will be a Visiting Professor at Princeton University.
Opening on September 13, 2012 at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, England and traveling to Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain and the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, The Mind on Fire, Work 1970-1988 will explore the origin and development of Welling’s 1980’s abstract photographs.
In January 2013 the UMASS University Museum of Contemporary Art, Amherst, MA will present Place, 1970-2010 an exhibition detailing Welling’s work on New England.