Splotch: A Visual Paradox

Splotch exhibition catalogue includes essays by Eileen Jeng and Robert C. Morgan. Copies of the catalogue can be purchased in the store.

Excerpt from Splotch: A Visual Paradox: “Splotch” connotes a shape created haphazardly or spontaneously, and it is defined as “a daub, blot, or smear of something, typically a liquid”[1] as well as “a large spot or mark of dirt, paint.”[2] The latter definition implies that a “splotch” occurs in various forms, is distinct from its surroundings, and can be unwanted. Paint and dirt are peculiarly treated equally — as accidental stains or imperfections. However, a splotch can be deliberate and welcomed even if it is unintentional — across generations, cultures, and mediums — as demonstrated in art historical contexts and in the two-venue eponymous group exhibition at Sperone Westwater and Lesley Heller Workspace. Splotches encompass the marks made in ink art inspired by the controlled brushstrokes of Chinese calligraphy, [3] the blotches in Fra Angelico’s quattrocento paintings in the convent of San Marco in Florence that have been analyzed by art historian Georges Didi-Huberman,[4] and the inadvertent blots that Joan Miró incorporated in his canvases. With less structured approaches and more spontaneous actions, Jackson Pollock created splatters,[5] and European artists, associated with Tachisme, employed fortuitous applications of paint in their non-geometric abstractions. More recently, conceptual artist Sol LeWitt created his three-dimensional fiberglass pieces titled Splotches from 2000 to 2007. These sculptures and their working drawings — or “footprints” — inspired the title and premise of this group exhibition. LeWitt is known for his modular and geometric structures as well as rule-based systems. His use of the title Splotch for these later three-dimensional pieces appears paradoxical at first. This notion of LeWitt’s work was suggested in a conversation between Lawrence Weiner and John Ravenal, former Sydney and Frances Lewis Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.[6] Ravenal noted that Weiner once described LeWitt as the last of the Abstract Expressionists, perhaps commenting on "his [LeWitt’s] command of monumental scale, mastery of color, distinctiveness of voice, and overall expressive power that, nonetheless, was founded on a rejection of just these sorts of concerns in the Abstract Expressionist generation that proceeded him."[7] The progression of forms and colors in LeWitt’s oeuvre proves that he was a firm believer that “once you reach the end of something, it opens the beginning of something else.” He continues, “I always try doing what the next thing was instead of doing the same thing over and over again.”[8] Therefore, the emergence of organic shapes was a progressive development, not foreign to LeWitt’s way of working. The 29 artists in this exhibition create work that portrays seemingly free-form or random daubs and spots through methodical and controlled processes. The works by the diverse group of emerging and established artists investigate and expand the concept of a “controlled splotch.” Utilizing predetermined and self-imposed rules, the artists explore the boundaries of various mediums as well as the tension between control and spontaneity. Their approaches are structured, yet left up to elements of chance and failure. Through their formal qualities, the works depict organic, biomorphic, and amorphous shapes as a manifestation of process, imposed or otherwise, that provide a new way to look at materials and methods. With a range of traditional and nontraditional materials, including acrylic and oil paint, ceramic, paper, canvas, carpet, and larvae, as well as varying techniques — from painting, pouring, cutting to burning — the artists employ different degrees of chance, and some more than others. Like LeWitt, a few artists incorporate the architectural space. These artworks also document a passage of time, action, and movement, as well as a concentration of energy — for example, as in the works of Lynda Benglis, Trudy Benson, Keltie Ferris, Andreas Kocks, Sol LeWitt, Takesada Matsutani, Otto Piene, and Brie Ruais. There are intimate observations of the microcosm and, at times, of a macrocosm — as artists also examine pop culture, nature, science, technology, and cultural identity, among other subjects, such as in the works of Mary Heilmann, Riad Miah, Jamie Powell, Karen Tompkins, Terry Winters, and Nicole Awai. The concept of the exhibition expands beyond the artists in the exhibition, for one can recall the sculptural brushstrokes by Roy Lichtenstein and the Splats by Polly Apfelbaum. 1 “Splotch,” Oxford Dictionaries online, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/ american_english/splotch. 2 “Splotch,” Merriam Webster Dictionary online, http://www. merriam-webster.com/dictio- nary/splotch. Furthermore, a spot is defined as “a small area visibly different (as in color, finish, or material) from the surrounding area.” “Spot,” Merriam Webster Dictionary online, http://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/spot. 3 Flexible hair brushes started to be used regularly in Chinese calligraphy in the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). “Chinese Calligraphy,” The Met’s website, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chcl/hd_chcl.htm. 4 David Reed and Riad Miah, e-mail message with the author, June 12–23, 2016. Georges Didi-Huberman, Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 2. 5 The process of color field painter Mark Rothko has been described as experimental but more methodical than the other Abstract Expressionists. 6 The museum acquired Sol LeWitt’s Splotch #22 (2007) in 2007. John Ravenal is currently the Executive Director of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA. 7 John Ravenal, “Continual Surprise” in Sol LeWitt: 100 Views, ed. Susan Cross and Denise Markonish (North Adams: MASS MoCA/Yale University Press, 2009), 91. 8 Sol LeWitt in conversation with Gary Garrels (Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 2001. “Sol LeWitt: 4 Decades,” Vimeo video, 0:58, posted by Michael Blackwood Productions, January 24, 2016, http://www.michaelblack- woodproductions.com/old/ artm_lewitt.php.          

Excerpt from Splotch: A Visual Paradox:

“Splotch” connotes a shape created haphazardly or spontaneously, and it is defined as “a daub, blot, or smear of something, typically a liquid”[1] as well as “a large spot or mark of dirt, paint.”[2] The latter definition implies that a “splotch” occurs in various forms, is distinct from its surroundings, and can be unwanted. Paint and dirt are peculiarly treated equally — as accidental stains or imperfections. However, a splotch can be deliberate and welcomed even if it is unintentional — across generations, cultures, and mediums — as demonstrated in art historical contexts and in the two-venue eponymous group exhibition at Sperone Westwater and Lesley Heller Workspace.

Splotches encompass the marks made in ink art inspired by the controlled brushstrokes of Chinese calligraphy, [3] the blotches in Fra Angelico’s quattrocento paintings in the convent of San Marco in Florence that have been analyzed by art historian Georges Didi-Huberman,[4] and the inadvertent blots that Joan Miró incorporated in his canvases. With less structured approaches and more spontaneous actions, Jackson Pollock created splatters,[5] and European artists, associated with Tachisme, employed fortuitous applications of paint in their non-geometric abstractions. More recently, conceptual artist Sol LeWitt created his three-dimensional fiberglass pieces titled Splotches from 2000 to 2007. These sculptures and their working drawings — or “footprints” — inspired the title and premise of this group exhibition.

LeWitt is known for his modular and geometric structures as well as rule-based systems. His use of the title Splotch for these later three-dimensional pieces appears paradoxical at first. This notion of LeWitt’s work was suggested in a conversation between Lawrence Weiner and John Ravenal, former Sydney and Frances Lewis Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.[6] Ravenal noted that Weiner once described LeWitt as the last of the Abstract Expressionists, perhaps commenting on "his [LeWitt’s] command of monumental scale, mastery of color, distinctiveness of voice, and overall expressive power that, nonetheless, was founded on a rejection of just these sorts of concerns in the Abstract Expressionist generation that proceeded him."[7] The progression of forms and colors in LeWitt’s oeuvre proves that he was a firm believer that “once you reach the end of something, it opens the beginning of something else.” He continues, “I always try doing what the next thing was instead of doing the same thing over and over again.”[8] Therefore, the emergence of organic shapes was a progressive development, not foreign to LeWitt’s way of working.

The 29 artists in this exhibition create work that portrays seemingly free-form or random daubs and spots through methodical and controlled processes. The works by the diverse group of emerging and established artists investigate and expand the concept of a “controlled splotch.” Utilizing predetermined and self-imposed rules, the artists explore the boundaries of various mediums as well as the tension between control and spontaneity. Their approaches are structured, yet left up to elements of chance and failure. Through their formal qualities, the works depict organic, biomorphic, and amorphous shapes as a manifestation of process, imposed or otherwise, that provide a new way to look at materials and methods.

With a range of traditional and nontraditional materials, including acrylic and oil paint, ceramic, paper, canvas, carpet, and larvae, as well as varying techniques — from painting, pouring, cutting to burning — the artists employ different degrees of chance, and some more than others. Like LeWitt, a few artists incorporate the architectural space. These artworks also document a passage of time, action, and movement, as well as a concentration of energy — for example, as in the works of Lynda Benglis, Trudy Benson, Keltie Ferris, Andreas Kocks, Sol LeWitt, Takesada Matsutani, Otto Piene, and Brie Ruais. There are intimate observations of the microcosm and, at times, of a macrocosm — as artists also examine pop culture, nature, science, technology, and cultural identity, among other subjects, such as in the works of Mary Heilmann, Riad Miah, Jamie Powell, Karen Tompkins, Terry Winters, and Nicole Awai. The concept of the exhibition expands beyond the artists in the exhibition, for one can recall the sculptural brushstrokes by Roy Lichtenstein and the Splats by Polly Apfelbaum.

1 “Splotch,” Oxford Dictionaries online, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/ american_english/splotch.

2 “Splotch,” Merriam Webster Dictionary online, http://www. merriam-webster.com/dictio- nary/splotch. Furthermore, a spot is defined as “a small area visibly different (as in color, finish, or material) from the surrounding area.” “Spot,” Merriam Webster Dictionary online, http://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/spot.

3 Flexible hair brushes started to be used regularly in Chinese calligraphy in the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). “Chinese Calligraphy,” The Met’s website, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chcl/hd_chcl.htm.

4 David Reed and Riad Miah, e-mail message with the author, June 12–23, 2016. Georges Didi-Huberman, Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 2.

5 The process of color field painter Mark Rothko has been described as experimental but more methodical than the other Abstract Expressionists.

6 The museum acquired Sol LeWitt’s Splotch #22 (2007) in 2007. John Ravenal is currently the Executive Director of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA.

7 John Ravenal, “Continual Surprise” in Sol LeWitt: 100 Views, ed. Susan Cross and Denise Markonish (North Adams: MASS MoCA/Yale University Press, 2009), 91.

8 Sol LeWitt in conversation with Gary Garrels (Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 2001. “Sol LeWitt: 4 Decades,” Vimeo video, 0:58, posted by Michael Blackwood Productions, January 24, 2016, http://www.michaelblack- woodproductions.com/old/ artm_lewitt.php.