Luxe, Calme et Volupté
Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta
Originally published July 8, 2007
"Order and beauty form the organizing principle in an engaging new exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery....Using Baudelaire and Matisse as a springboard for contemporary expression, Mattera's premise is both clever and effective. Fastidious process (order) is essential to aesthetic outcome (beauty). Mattera's selections are smart and pleasing in a show that combines control and creativity, visual and tactile harmony, and individual refrains of luxe, calme et volupte....Verdict: Intelligent and pleasurable."
Debra Wolf, Atlanta Journal Constitution, August 2007
In the gallery foyer looking into the large Front Gallery
In the Front Gallery looking toward entry: Tim McFarlane, All That Could Be; Rainer Gross, Espinal Twins; Robert Sagerman, 11,257. On floor: Venske & Spanle, Smurf
All That Could Be, 2006, oil on canvas, 60 x 84 inches
Marcia Wood, my good friend and longtime dealer in Atlanta, gave me her blessing—and her gallery—to pursue my idea, which at its core is a meditation on visual pleasure. After a decade of pornified bimbettes, video loops of window washers and the recently repickled shark (it's a big, interesting art world out there), I was craving a taste of the sublime. So I started making a list. Of course my idea of beauty is different from yours, that's the beauty of it, but I did want to refer to formal ideas of harmony—order, pattern, shape, texture and color--put together in ways that evoke feelings of pleasure, maybe feelings of the spiritual as well.
The words of my friend Stephen Rosenberg, a principal of Rosenberg + Kaufman Fine Art in New York, buzzed in my head as I considered this artist or that work: "The problem with artists who curate is that they always put too much in." He wasn't telling me this specifically, but when I heard it, it stuck. So I pared. Then added. Pared then added. Marcia's gallery is big—there are three separate gallery spaces with a total of about 2,500 square feet—so my list didn;t have to be pared to the quick, but with Rosenberg's wors resonating, I was mindful of not overstuffing the idea.
Front Gallery looking toward Terrace Gallery
From left: Robert Sagerman, 11,257; Frances Barth, Heat Glance; Tim McFarlane, All That Could Be. In distance: paintings by Timothy McDowell and Heather Hutchison
Heat Glance, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 96 inches
I ended up selecting 15 artists, 13 individual artists and an artmaking duo, and what emerged was Luxe, Calme et Volupté--luxury, tranquility and pleasure, after the refrain in Baudelaire's L'Invitation au Voyage. For the most part these are artists with whom I have shown, or with whom there is a gallery affiliation, or simply artists who found their way onto my visual radar in one exhibition or another and whose work I’ve followed avidly since. In every instance their work resonates for me personally as well as with this theme.
The artists in the show are David Ambrose, Chris Ashley, Frances Barth, Julie Gross, Rainer Gross, Heather Hutchison, Julie Karabenick, Timothy McDowell, Tim McFarlane, Maureen Mullarkey, Rose Olson, Robert Sagerman, Donna Sharrett, and Venske & Spanle.
When This Dust Falls, 2005, pigmented beeswax on acrylic, app 36 x 36 inches
In the Terrace Gallery with work, from left: Rose Olson, Timothy McDowell on far wall, Hutchison's When This Dust Falls, Donna Sharratt
Nectar, 2006, oil and wax on panel
With McDowells painting at your back, artists from left: Sharratt, Hutchison, David Ambrose on far wall, Olson
Southeastern Elevation, 2006, watercolor on perforated paper, 59 x 44 inches
Walking back through the Front Gallery to get to the last section of the show
Installation view of the North Gallery from entry. From left: Julie Gross painting, Two One Punch; Chris Ashley installation, Jukebox 1-28; Maureen Mullarkey collages. On floor: a Venske & Spanle Smurf
North gallery looking toward Marcia's office (with Frances Barth's red/gr over desk). From left: Julie Gross, Two One Punch and Scooter; Julie Karabenick, Composition 65 and Composition 64; Chris Ashley, Jukebox 1-28 with digital presentation of 365 HTML Drawings. On Floor: Venske & Spanle Smurf
Composition 64, 2006, acrylic on panel, 30 x 30 inches
Jukebox (detail 9 of 28), unique digital prints, each 11 x 8.5 inches
A Meditation of Visual Pleasure
Earlier this year, after a day of studio visits and an evening of gallery openings in Chelsea, I took a short taxi ride up Eighth Avenue with Marcia Wood and the editor of a New York-based art magazine. The back-seat conversation was, of course, about art. Marcia mentioned that I was curating a summer show for her gallery, and because we were nearing our destination, I described it simply as “a meditation on visual pleasure.”
“Ah, beauty,” responded the editor. “Isn’t it nice that we can talk about it again?”
Henri Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté, 1904, oil on canvas, 37 x 46″ (Museé d’Orsay, Paris)
Borrowing from Baudelaire and Matisse
Hutton Twins, 2006, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20 inches each
Tim McFarlane’s luxe is in his layers. Each of his paintings is a dense net of lattices that fall loosely over one another. In All That Could Be, a large rectangle of luscious tangles that could heat a room by hue alone, the eye works hard to peer around and through the layers. Speaking formally about his work, McFarlane says he’s exploring “aspects of aggregation and negation through color, line, mark-making and brushwork.” Speaking informally, I would say that the endless pleasure I have experienced in this work comes from allowing myself to become, and to remain, visually enmeshed.
Donna Sharratt ‘s work is as luxe as it is calme, each object a mandala of pearls and flower petals and other delicate objects set into a wax-covered wooden box. But the overriding element in her work is order. “Mirroring the Buddhist mandala form, the circular shape enveloped by the square …characterizes the infinite within the finite,” says the artist. “The geometric schemes of Gothic cathedral windows and the numeric configurations of prayer beads inform the mathematical arrangements of the work.” Your Song, a memorial piece to her musician brother who died too soon, exemplifies Sharrett’s engagement with repetition, ritual and remembrance.
Your Song, 2003-05, mixed media with pearls, pressed flower petals, thread, 18 x 18 x 1.25 inches
The horizontal is a predominant element in Frances Barth’s paintings, which might be described as abstract landscapes with narrative timeline, a theme she began investigating early in her career and which she has continued to pursue. In this exhibition we show two works painted roughly a decade apart. The 1995 Red-Gr, simultaneously flat and deeply spatial, is vast enough to visually fall into—all the better to contemplate its contradictory dimensionality. In Barth’s newest work, such as the boldly horizontal Heat Glance, which she describes as “both object and panorama, “ you contemplate its light and space as if peering through a slot. It’s a tantalizing slice of imagined landscape and—this is a good thing—it leaves you wanting more.
red/gr, acrylic on canvas
Divided (warm), 2006, acrylic on plexiglass with wood frame
Diffusion Rising, 2006, acrylic interference pigment on birch panel, 26 x 15 x 4 inches; front and side views
Jukebox (one of 28), unique digital print, 11 x 8.5 inches
Two One Punch, 2003, oil on canvas, 32 x 32 inches
Venske & Spanle
Smurf 38, 2003, marble, 10 x 18 x 18 inches
"My work activity in its purest form centers ultimately…around the counting of each stroke for each color that comprises each painting," he says. "For me, the numbers themselves are the most direct expression of my work." Thus the balance tips again; for the artist, who is repeating and tracking his strokes, the painting is a meditation.