Terry Winters at the Pratt Institute and Matthew Marks
Terry Winters: Local Group/New Works on Paper
Pratt Institute until December 18
144 West 14th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
Terry Winters: 1981-1986
Matthew Marks until December 24
523 West 24th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212 243 0200
This season, Terry Winters can feel content: he has separate shows up of recent graphic works and of 1980s paintings, at the Pratt Institute, where he graduated in 1971, and Matthew Marks, respectively, which coincide with a ten year survey of his work in all mediums at the Addison Gallery, Andover, MA, curated by Adam Weinberg, former director of the gallery and now of the Whitney. It is a good time to take stock of a remarkable career.
The various series of drawings and prints at Pratt, fabulously installed in striking, Donald Judd-like vitrines apparently of Mr. Winters’ design, reveal-as any group of his works do-the protean nature of his imagination. He is an artist, like Picasso, who thinks in series, and when you view a large body of interrelated images you begin to experience a strange sense of imagery continuing between each picture. In other words, there is a life beyond the fiche, which is, so to speak, an arbitrarily established report of an ongoing animation.
The distance between dispatches, however, is considerable, so it doesn’t read literally as animation-and anyway, we don’t know for sure how true to the initial creative succession the artist was under any obligation to be. Picasso’s drawings of the 1930s, documented by Christian Zervos in “Cahiers d’Art” with anthropological meticulousness, were dated to the day, a powerful rhetorical statement about drawing as the working of the unconscious. “Je suis le cahier,” Picasso declared: I am the sketchbook.
Mr. Winters’ drawings look with particular avidity towards Picasso: the first page in his suite of drawings, “Local Group, June 1, 2004,” for instance, directly recalls Picasso’s line and dot technique of the early 1920s, in which constellations of implied depth are generated, on the flat surface, with cuniform simplicity.
Mr. Winters isn’t limited to Picasso in his reference: He brings to mind a myriad of lesser artists, many of them disciples of Picasso, and tellingly, artists at the interstice of pure abstraction and either surrealism or expressionism: Stanley William Hayter, for instance, with his complex wave formations, or Hans Hartung, with his dense, brooding webs of scribble. Mr. Winters’ painting palette often recalls salon abstraction of the 1950s, managing to be at once shrill and muddy.
It seems to me that Mr. Winters is a curious amalgam of cultural influences: he is, by temperament, a romantic, but by generation and affiliation he belongs with an anti-romantic late modernism that favors conceptual explorations of system, process and object over any notion of art coming from the depths of individual genius or collective unconscious. What we get from this tension is a strange, troubled degree of investment in the individual mark. Mr. Winters’ touch is strongly inflected by a personal handwriting but somehow holds back from overt, “ejaculatory” expressionism, to borrow a phrase from Robert Storr writing about the current Susan Rothenberg drawing survey at Sperone Westwater (to mention another romantic emerging from the shadows of minimalism).
The recent drawing, while in Mr. Winters’ characteristically robust, scribbly, charcoal-heavy hand, reference modernism in their fascination with the grid. To see the group of paintings from the first half of the 1980s, when he hit the scene, is to be reminded how much of a break with the minimal and conceptual recent past he presented. The works have a very European feel, which would have related him with the tide of neo-expressionism: the Dane Per Kirkeby particularly comes to mind in a painting like “Good Government,” (1984) for instance, with its earthy, chocolately palette and its sense of forms at once carefully delineated and awkwardly inscribed. What is old masterly, even, without being anachronistic about this image is the very different speed of figure compared with ground: There is no modernist idea here about the whole image coming into being in unity. The individual objects-somwhere between catarpillar and the nutshell in their cellular structure-evolve at their own pace but in hidden harmony with their neighbors and the universe they inhabit.
A version of this article first appeared in the New York Sun, December 2, 2004