Syntax Is Everything: Stanley Whitney at Team
Stanley Whitney: Other Colors I Forget at Team Gallery
April 11 – May 12, 2013
83 Grand Street
New York City, 212 279 9219
Stanley Whitney has over five decades painting behind him. The seven large luscious paintings currently on view at Team Gallery constitute his 28th solo exhibition, so it is maybe little wonder that, at this point, his technique appears effortless. Indeed, the work displays a beguiling simplicity. There are sixteen or twenty rectangles in each square painting and they are, more or less, evenly apportioned four down and four, or five, across – not by ruled measurement but an equally exact though ineffable idea of rightness. These are formal paintings, grids of quadrilaterals, but casual and unpretentious, like a conversation one might have about the checkered tablecloths at your favorite trattoria. The same sense of ease holds true for the paint application, and for a few moments one might get an impression that the brushwork is almost careless. This is, however, a manifestly false reading and it quickly transmutes into an awareness of acute fastidiousness.
Take the largest work, for instance, the eight-foot square Bodyheat, (2012). Hanging solo in the rear gallery, where it can enjoy the most controlled lighting, it dominates the small room with a quiet authority and grace. The rectangles, arrayed in this particular piece five across and four down, are topped and separated on the horizontal by thick stripes that simultaneously delineate and activate the grid. For the most part the colors directly abut, shoulder to shoulder, but in a few cases an additional fat stroke puts in extra duty. In the top row a slash of salmon keeps the orange square from combining with the orange line just below, while in the second row from the top, a scumble of slightly darker blue achieves the same end between the blue rectangle and all but identically-colored line below.
Conversely, the unusual blended stroke dividing the yellow from the green serves to modulate and mellow what would otherwise be a potentially harsh juxtaposition. And in the same vein, a wash of blue at the top of the pale yellow/green square in the bottom row eases the dialogue between it and the dark blue stripe above it. Meanwhile, in the bottom right corner the paint in the lower half of the black square dissolves in drips, a permanent history of its interaction with the wet medium.
The cumulative effect of these additional strokes and wet drips is to highlight their outlier nature: there is not a single unintentional mark in any of these paintings. Echoing this low key but firm control are the colors themselves: blue, green, yellow, red, orange, brown, black and white. Such a simple list brings to mind the basic box of 8 Crayola Crayons. As elsewhere, sustained looking quickly alters this perception, each mottled or extenuated color being an overlay of another, the palette expanding to six variations of green, five of red, and so forth. We are made aware that individual colors mean naught, while the syntax and syncopation of the colors are everything.
Whitney nonchalantly weaves together nearly invisible yet precise technique, lightly imposed yet persistent structure, and a simple yet sophisticated use of color. The resulting works are as playful as they are powerful as they flutter and wave against the cool white walls whose flatness they eviscerate with hardly a sigh.