Landscape as Grid
Stephen Haller Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of a two-person exhibition, LANDSCAPE AS GRID: the abstract paintings of Lloyd Martin and Johnnie Winona Ross.
There are numerous long-standing formalistic elements in painting tradition, few of which are as ubiquitous as the grid or the landscape. Rarely does one see them used in conjunction with one another and seldom does one observe them employed with relatively equal importance. Both the grid and the landscape figure significantly in the works of Lloyd Martin and Johnnie Winona Ross - each arriving at his own unique and very different conclusion.
Painters utilize the grid in both a conceptual and in a literal sense. Conceptually, although appearing in a myriad of forms, the grid can function as an organizing constant between the forces of order and chaos. It is, in reality, a reduction to basic form. In this case, the grid is the reduction of the landscape to its purest essence. When the grid is used in its literal/physical sense, its presence on the canvas is not always easily perceived; this is not the case in the work of either of these two painters.
Johnnie Winona Ross's use of the grid is evidenced by the interlacing of strong, orderly, horizontal bands that are repeated uniformly on his canvases with thin, vertical, organic threads of paint that literally drip from the top to the bottom of each canvas. This intersection creates the minimal scaffolding of a clearly defined, unmistakable grid.
The grid found within the paintings of Lloyd Martin is bold and is one of the most dominant aspects in his work. Arranging thick, dark, horizontal and vertical bands against a lighter background, Martin's grid is confident and constantly in motion, randomly intersecting in an infinite number of possibilities.
When considering contemporary abstract landscape as a genre, quite often one can see direct visual quotes to an actual physical landform or place. However, this literal physicality is not visible in this work. Rather, each of these artists uses the spirit of an imagined or aggregate landscape. Without instruction, these paintings bear little or no resemblance to a recognizable landscape.
In Ross's work, the landscape can be perceived in the quiet, horizontal bands that traverse his canvases, each forming its own horizon. His principal inspiration is that of the American Southwest, the atmosphere of the desert: its light, its palette as well as the mineral seeps found in its cliffs.
The landscape within the paintings of Martin is substantially more elusive but, as he has reflected: "the landscape has always been there." It is simultaneously reductive, architectural, and urban. His is quite simply a post-industrial landscape.
Robert Rosenblum in his introduction to The Metropolitan Museum of Art's The Landscape in the Twentieth-Century American Art mused, "We are living in a time when the venerable traditions of American landscape painting are being transformed by strange new ideas and images (that) we must count on artists to tell us about." Lloyd Martin and Johnnie Winona Ross are clearly doing just that.
Lloyd Martin, Migrate (20), Oil, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 72 inches
Lloyd Martin begins his process by photographing the decaying industrial environment surrounding his New England studio. It is the essence of these urban images captured in his photographs that serve as inspiration for his virile, richly layered paintings. His work is at once both assertive and delicate. In his statement for his 2007 solo exhibition Martin says: "These compositions have been derived from observations of architectural incidents. Unlike the reductionists' interests of mid-century, (20th), painting and sculpture, these works do not contemplate an end game. A formal rigor that may suggest innate or static staging, instead exact a capacity for incident and nuance. An implicit pictorial space advanced by a series of organized painting events."
Johnnie Winona Ross, Sand Bend Draw (SBD-02) (detail),
Acrylic, mixed media on linen, 60 x 54 inches
The integration of landscape and grid is clearly evident in the lush, glowing canvases of Johnnie Winona Ross. Speaking of his work Ross states: "My basic visual vocabulary is horizontal bars... [I] use drips to create a vertical mark that references gravity. I live in a desert in which water is rare and precious. The pigments that I paint with are made up of carbonized bone, celadon, ground pearl, marble, titanium, zinc, lead, and various natural oxides. All elements of the landscape, complexity and a physical space/depth are achieved by layering these elements 100-150 times; each layer is burnished to create a harder surface, also revealing the history of the painting. I use bleached linen, copper tacks, and basswood as a painting support, elements of landscape. In a way, I am not representing the landscape as a grid, but constructing physical elements of landscape into a visual structure that could have the sensation of landscape."