Abstraction And Empathy
“The will to abstraction is to be understood as one of the two aesthetic impulses known to human culture, the other, of course, being the urge to empathy, which manifests itself in the naturalistic depiction of the observable world.”
— Wilhelm Worringer, 1908
It has been over one hundred years since Wilhelm Worringer wrote his classic doctoral thesis concerning how one may approach the differing perceptual qualities of the new modern art. Things have gotten quite complex in the time since then. Definitions now often slip-slide in indeterminate ways. Abstraction may now have elements of empathy. And ostensible ‘reality’ based art and even photography can be emotionally quite cool.
While the four artists in this exhibition do not illustrate any particular theory, the theme suggests how Worringer’s original thesis still resonates even as it gives way to the pressures and variousness of contemporary artistic production. Individually, work by Barbara Hatfield, Nancy Haynes, Jan Meissner, and Gwenn Thomas go from empathic to objective, from photographic ‘realness’ to resolute abstraction.
The conceptually pure and verifiable facts of paint/color, its application and controlled scale on the way to constructing a resonant visual image remain sacrosanct for Nancy Haynes. Pared down and reserved, Barbara Hatfield’s paintings and enigmatic drawings shift from stringency toward a subtle abstract evocativeness. Gwenn Thomas has been a very early pioneer investigating how photographic processes could be used to construct images that are interestingly positioned between painting with light, which is photography’s original definition, and the larger ambitions of expansive painting on canvas. Here she is less technically distanced as she transitions to making marks that are of the hand. New York’s busy streets provide accessible stage sets for Jan Meissner. Her photographs capture not only the city’s natural geometry and energy, but also its curious human activity as presented against lateral shifting planes of rich painterly colors and textures.
Barbara Hatfield earned an MFA from Parsons The New School for Design. Hatfield’s work, often invitingly spare, is noted for its sensitivity to the innate characteristics of materials. Her works are in numerous private collections in the US, Switzerland, Germany, France and Japan and the permanent collection of the North Dakota Museum of Art.
Nancy Haynes is a conceptual painter working within the parameters of non-representational, deconstructivist thinking. This exhibit presents a small selection of work from the early seventies to the present. The most recent includes both a painting and drawing from - the autobiographical color chart series. Haynes describes her painterly intention as an attempt to make paintings "which describe their own nature". Haynes has exhibited in the US and internationally, and has received numerous awards.
Jan Meissner is a photographer and writer who lives and works in New York City.
Gwenn Thomas lives and works in New York. Her work examines how photography shapes our contemporary perception of painting. She is a graduate of the Cooper Union School of Art and is represented by Art Projects International and Rose Burlingham Gallery in NY; Exile Gallery, Berlin and Galerie Hafemann, Weisbaden, Germany. Her work is included in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA, Charles Saatchi, London, UK, and C.A.M., Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal. A survey of Thomas' work is being published by Charta (Milan, Italy) in Spring, 2013.