Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Matthew Marchand in SFAQ International Arts and Culture

©2013-2014 San Francisco Arts Quarterly

Ward Schumaker’s “YEARS OF PRETTY:
Selections from Ten Years of Work” at Jack Fischer Gallery, San Francisco

The title “Reason Drifts Far From The Shore” is printed in black acrylic on a grey background, centered on the left side of the 48 x 72 inch canvas, on the right side that same black paint pulls its way through the grey in a painterly stroke that drips and switches back on itself. Punctuating the right side is a layer of ten bright dashes that reconfirm the surface as essentially flat. Metaphorically to be “at sea” is to be confused, overwhelmed and at a loss, what happens when reason is set adrift on the unfamiliar and estranged?

This May Sound (mixed media on paper on wood) 50″ x 34″, 2007.
Courtesy of the gallery.

The work in the show “Years of Pretty” rides back and forth between a concreteness of the written and the derangement of visual language. Mr. Schumaker’s extensive collection of drips, jabs, slashes swirls, swipes and arabesques cribbed from the abstract lexicon is never secondary to the civilizing nature of text. Unexpectedly the interplay between the two systems of language causes them to take on aspects of the other. In “This May Sound” the text element is so dense and obscured by its own means of production that it shifts away from the verbal integrating itself into the visual structure of the composition.

In “Chrysanthemum” more than half of that single word is crossed out by a brushstroke that swirls off into space. This haptic hop between the flatness of writing and the space of painting draws you into the surfaces black and white layers where acid greens and nearly entirely obscured blues appear. Then you find an in-between color that isn’t red or brown or pink or orange, but could be. There are singular brushstrokes (and potentially other text) buried in the surface, drifting down away from you. Suddenly the language of the brushstroke is working to organize and the drips and gestures of the letters are deranging.

Chrysanthemum (acrylic on canvas) 72″ x 48″, 2008.
Courtesy of the gallery.

The dumb boxes, as the artist calls them, are sitting on pedestals throughout the gallery. These small squat structures are reconstructions of a project started in the mid-1960’s when the artist first moved to San Francisco. They aren’t exactly sculptures (or boxes for that matter) but not quite paintings either although they could easily be wall mounted. The multiple surfaces on a single object is one of the most important ideas present in the show, showing up also in the hand painted artists books on display in the back room. The multiple picture planes intersecting at different angles can make statements via their objectness as in “Throne for a New Ubu”. They can also be looked at as iterations of the paintings where the painterly space of the two dimensional work has been deranged and cast into the real shared space of the gallery, each surface an analog for a separate layer of paint. The surfaces are handled so deftly everywhere in the show but never so importantly as on the boxes where the light touch with the gesso and the distressed finishes reconfirm flatness. In some places the planes are connected with apertures as in “One-eyed Afternoon”. Packed into the space behind the holes drilled into two of the works sides are precisely cut pieces of cardboard multiplying the potential picture planes of the work. Pushed together so tightly these “extra” surfaces come across as visual promises that will never be filled.

One-eyed Afternoon (polychrome wood sculpture) 14″ x 14″ x 7″, 2012.
Courtesy of the gallery.

One-eyed Afternoon (polychrome wood sculpture) 14″ x 14″ x 7″, 2012.
Courtesy of the gallery.

The show has an enthusiasm and generosity that seems at odds with the history of abstraction, so it’s not hard to imagine why Mr. Schumaker would want to set the discourse surrounding abstraction adrift. The work is not some radical staking out of new territory, but it sure does want to move beyond the dirge-like endgame normally ascribed to abstract painting for a chance to describe something else.

For more information visit here.

-Contributed by Matthew Marchand

©2013-2014 San Francisco Arts Quarterly

Monday, September 9, 2013

Years of Pretty | Jack Fischer Gallery | San Francisco | 07 Sep - 12 Oct 2013

Jack and I had used a cardboard model to plan the show and we were pretty much in agreement about the way we wanted it to look, but still, there were a few changes about where certain works got hung. (Of course, we asked for Vivienne's advice, as well.)

When we finished, we started hoping for a good turnout at the opening.

And then we got a present: the San Francisco Chronicle's art critic, Kenneth Baker, stopped by early to see the show and on opening day he gave us a really kind and generous review.

Everyone in town reads Kenneth Baker.
And as a result it seemed as if everyone came to the opening: our guess is 500+ visitors over the four hours.
What more can an artist ask?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kenneth Baker Review | San Francisco Chronicle | September 2013

Ward Schumaker's hand-painted book real page-turner

Published 2:50 pm, Friday, September 6, 2013

White gloves on a table in an exhibition offer an invitation to don them and page through a series of artworks on loose or bound pages. Like too many visitors, I skirt that invitation more often than not.

But once I started to page through Bay Area artist Ward Schumaker's albums of painted sheets at Jack Fischer's new Potrero gallery, I could not stop.

Seldom will you encounter contemporary art in any medium of such relaxed, fearless confidence.

Schumaker has not merely registered but digested the graphic aesthetics of Philip Guston's 1960s work - early and late - plus the best of Terry Winters, Cy Twombly and Anselm Kiefer.

Most artists whose work summons such references - with all that they imply of feeling for color, materials, mystery and surprise - cannot withstand the comparisons that inevitably follow in viewers' minds. Schumaker need not worry.

Here and there he takes on the additional challenge of incorporating words into the books. Surprisingly, for the most part, the text does not interfere, nor does it disappear by settling down into obvious meaning.

Very rarely does a critic encounter new work that immediately rewards a lifetime of learning to look. No one who cares about seeing as a sensation of life should miss this chance to inspect Schumaker's albums.

Even absent the books, Schumaker's show would stand out by the authority and variety of work it contains. He confronts head-on the absence of credible conventions or pretexts for composing a painting from zero and strides forward. Inevitably, stumbles occur, but seeing the effort alone will give heart to fellow artists and everyone open to it.

Ward Schumaker: Years of Pretty: Paintings, sculpture and collage. Through Oct. 12. Jack Fischer Gallery, 311 Potrero Ave., S.F. (415) 956-1178, www.jackfischergallery.com.