Allow me to call Wendy White a perceptual pioneer. Her exhibition of six paintings, currently at the Cress Gallery, has been sparking both widespread interest and prolonged contemplation by viewers. White lives in New York, and her paintings are shown here courtesy of Leo Koenig Gallery of New York City. White arrives here as the latest artist of the Diane Marek Visiting Artist Series, one that continues to bring provocative and fascinating artwork to Chattanooga.
White explains that the six paintings at the Cress are pivotal works, representative of stylistic developments going back to 2005. The most recent work, “5-7 Doyers”, may prove a stylistic breakthrough, uniquely embracing the show space. These paintings are abstract works, but this term requires some qualification with regard to her presentations. To her credit, these works provoke many questions and trigger much discussion.
Abstract painting embraces a relative spectrum. Some abstract works present paint and color as strokes and spectra fully apart from any representational impulse. Such works are capable of providing endless visual pleasure, showing a deep intricacy of imaginative freeplay. This is not what White has engaged with, although elements of this style emerge as constitutive parts within her larger constructs.
Another kind of abstraction embraces geometry and mathematics, sometimes very specifically, as in works by Agnes Martin or Dorothea Rockbourne, where there emerges a representational gesture focused on forms. A number of “minimalist” works also comprise this fairly paradoxical field, in which abstraction shows as a kind of essence. The viewer contemplates forms abstracted from perceptual experience. Here the didactic impulse is minimal. Such forms may also be linked to nature, or to other environments. White’s work has a kinship to such abstraction.
If I may refer to White as a perceptual pioneer, this appellation derives from what appears to me as a kind of perceptual stance suggested by her work, a sort of subliminal distillation of visually complex urban environments into a virtual field that reshapes her canvases and expresses as innovative textures and colors.
White’s abstract painting, “Grass Stain (2006, acrylic and spray paint on canvas), provides a sense of emphasis that continues through her other works shown here. Her intense dynamism of black and white fields connected with colors from a rainbow palette suggests the optical breaking of light into its constituent frequencies. The colors seem chaotic, but a number of these colorful strokes are also regularized into more geometric shapes, including curves that contain the kind of angles that are associated with the letters of the alphabet, like “B” or “R”. Some black strokes appear like abstracted script. Both the interplay of black and white and the presence of either nascent or actual numbers and letters repeat to a greater or lesser extent through her other works shown here. This abstract painting may not look “urban” specifically, but it may convey and urban feel.
This sense of “feel”, perhaps “tactility”, connects to our intuitive faculty, which some consider a non-linguistic faculty. White’s other five paintings do convey elements recognizable from our common urban experience.
White’s “vocabulary”, if you will, consists of images. Her slide montage of urban images and details from her paintings really constitutes a seventh artwork here, an electronic virtual presentation. Virtual images can be mirror images that contain reversals. The movement of a glass door in the city may momentarily display an image of a nearby scene. “Ranc” contains its title reversed as an extension of its apparent frame, more properly, as its frame. The apparent phrase “a los” (Spanish for “to the”) opens to all plural nouns. In Taoism, two things (yang and yin) produce ten thousand.
The impact of reading such “letters” may be dramatic, but it seems altogether the wrong direction from which to catch the drift of these paintings. Perhaps White guides us to the threshold of an intuition conditioned by urban spaces. Many of her “letters” are complete only as visual fields, and some are indistinguishable from numbers. If one pays close attention, there emerges delight in White’s innovative color palette. Perhaps one may find humor in her jamming of forms—is that an “O” or a diamond this time? (“Reformer”).
“5-7 Doyers” just astonishes. Its actual reference to a specific location seems insignificant in relation to its innovation as painting in geometric space, its textures, and nuanced colors. White’s work appears as bold as the creative frontier from which it apparently emerges. Many are paying deep attention to this work. Be one of them!
Show runs through December 2
Cress Gallery, UTC Fine Arts Building, Vine & Palmetto Sts.