Chart Gallery, NY
Til Oct 30th
Karin Davie has a new show at Chart Gallery. It's her first in New York since 2007 and should not be missed
It's unlike her breakout curvy paintings of the late '90s that described the outside of the body. Neither are they like the huge wild, squiggly paintings that she showed in the early '00s, which expressed a volatile inner state. These paintings represent an attempt to go to the deep interior, to the tissues, to the cell wall itself.
In David Hockney's recent article in The Art Newspaper "Abstraction in Art has Run its Course" he claims that everything Abstraction set out to do has already been done.
Karin's paintings do something that mimetic painting can't do. They use the language of formal abstraction to approach a complicated emotional and physical state. Abstraction can talk about ontology without getting distracted by the petty associations of individual people, places or things.
She makes abstract paintings that employ different devices to talk about a subject outside of itself. The way it is painted. Familiar abstract tropes, like "spot" paintings or "stripe" paintings. Or the shape of the canvas. This approach goes right back to Barnet Newman's "Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue I" 1966 Where the colours became an idea in itself rather than being used to express something.
Downstairs in Chart Gallery there are some vibrating, vibrant Guaches from 2007 that were the beginnings of the new series.
Karin's gouache paint marks are finer and gauzeier. The lines follow the border of the paper on each side. Becoming lighter as they reach the middle. Leaving a square of transcendental light. They bring to mind birth or death or even the light of revelation. They are elusively simple until you imagine yourself actually painting one.
Upstairs there are more physical oil painted versions made more recently. These are powerful paintings. Portals, openings, altered states. Each one with a thumb shaped divot cut out of the bottom of the canvas. I imagine this as a space representing a real thumb, on a hand holding the image up to your face. Or perhaps the thumb at arms length framed by whatever is in sight as is sometimes employed to help gauge distance. But I don't know. Her paintings always have this quality of a magic trick, one where you can never know its secret.
My favourite of the new works are the two scalloped paintings. "While My Painting Gently Weeps No 2" is rendered in oceanic greens, in sinewy strokes. The scallops work both as little cup like inlets that capture some stray paint marks. Pretending to be, whether you read the edge as positive or negative space, either dippy cartoon waves or cartoony toes or thumbs.
They are like the sea and of the sea. A woman's body locks in to the cycles of the moon and consequently the tides. They see in the sea a mirror of their own vibrations. In dream analysis the sea is also the mother, the source of all things.
In these new paintings a host of associations flood in at different reads and pool around the central conceit of sea-like bodily-ness. They expand her metaphors so that her painting refers to many things. The body, the sea, her emotional state. And disease. Karin has been struggling with Lyme for twenty years. She is deeply familiar with the workings of her body down to a microbial level.
Beyond that, Karin's stroke is her signature. Oily, tubular, like a thick vein or serpent. The line is slower now, moving in a winding cord from one side of the canvas to the other. A loaded large round brush that may hold the colour she's mixed and pick up others along the way,
They can represent dimensionality but not perspective. They seem to respond to light as if it's cast from above but we are constantly reminded that this is not a representational space. More importantly Karin's paintings have an instant quality. They hold something in, they create tension. So much so that the little flashes of broken strokes caught in the scallops of this one are a relief.
Hockney has said that his work is about "seeing" and the history of representation. He does makes great representational paintings n' all but we’re not being asked us to examine his inner life.
Davie's paintings are about her, about themselves and ultimately about the giant moving parts around us.
Its is a kind of poetry.
Proving Abstraction is still necessary when you want to talk about large, complex, 'abstract' things.
Thank u Millree for this wonderful descriptive insight towards Karins work.
...very fine indeed.