Using straightforward imagery and a layering process, Richard Lange creates subtle paintings that richly reward careful examination. The drawn forms in his works derive from clothing patterns and cookbook diagrams of chops and roasts. Lange likes these shapes for their simplicity and employs them as his point of departure for adventuresome experiments with line, balance and color. "If you know what the next painting is going to look like, why paint it?" he says.
In March and April, Lange showed 13 acrylic and oil paintings at Chicago's Melanee Cooper Gallery. The works range in size to as much as 60 inches tall and 60 inches wide. Lange applies a light coat of plaster to the canvas and uses a spatula to create a loosely topographic pattern. Next, he layers on several coats of paint and glaze to get a textured color field. Most of the paintings are divided into two or three areas, each with a different background color.
On top of the color field, in a contrasting shade, Lange draws his forms in simple outline. He does this with oil paint, but the lines look like chalk and seem quite offhanded. When the forms have space between them as in Paradigm #18, they float serenely, but when they impinge upon each other, as in Paradigm #17, tension is created and they seem ready to fly or tumble off the canvas. Puzzle #6 combines tranquil and tense fields.
Lange favors yellows, golds, oranges, grays, greens and black. He balances colors meticulously, creating effects that are only possible in painting -- and only attainable by an artist who has truly mastered his trade. This exhibition is a quiet tour de force.
Katina Huston: politics & art
Katina Huston, a San Francisco artist who is said to create art that "speaks of issues facing modern women," showed works on paper at Flatfile Contemporary in February and March. This is our first encounter with Huston, whose work over the past decade comprises painting, drawing, sculpture, and ceramics.
Huston's Shadow Bicycle series (2000 and 2001) consists of india ink on Mylar drawings in a variety of sizes hung singly and in groups of 14 x 17 in. panels. We see partial views of a bicycle from different angles. This crisp, attractive work combines an Oriental simplicity with an astonishing sense of perspective and structure. Imagine for a moment trying to draw a bicycle from a worm's viewpoint.
Hope Intervenes and Rises Like the Moon (n.d.) are pattern pieces on paper made with letter forms that spell out the words "Yes" and "No." According to the artist, these works grew out of a California court case in which a university professor was successfully prosecuted for sexual harassment. This man, who already had a malodorous reputation, harassed a coed who escaped and told an older woman friend. The friend filed suit.
Charming and decorative, Hope Intervenes and Rises Like the Moon communicate none of the shock and rage that unwanted sexual advances and a lawsuit would provoke. We wonder whether Huston created these works and applied fashionable political meanings to them after the fact. This work is visually successful but a narrative failure. Huston should leave her politics at the studio door.
Who was Herbert List?
The German photographer Herbert List (1903-1975) lived in Hamburg, Paris, Italy and Greece. As a young man, he photographed his male companions at the beach. During this time, he began to manipulate photographic perspective and lighting to change the appearance of familiar objects, make them seem magical, and reveal their inner spirit. These images, some of which echo well-known paintings, have been termed "metaphysical" (Pittura metafisica) and Surrealistic. Later, List produced photojournalism and made portraits. He did everything well, but revealed so little of himself in his work that we wonder just who he was.
An exhibition of 42 black-and-white photographs by List at the Stephen Daiter Gallery in March and April raised these questions. Friends in Spalato (1934) shows two young men in bathing suits reclining near the sea. It bespeaks the world of youth and sexual pleasure that the photographer apparently thought would never end. Two years after this photograph was taken, Hitler's police came looking for List because he was a non-Aryan who spoke disrespectfully of the Nazis. Lucky to escape alive, List fled to Paris where he free-lanced his photographs to magazines and met leading artists and intellectuals.
Continuation in The Irreal, Baltic Sea (1934), a "metaphysical" picture within a picture, shows two shells on the beach and their reflections in a mirror. Using the simplest of means, List creates intriguing riddles. Which shells are the real ones? Is the beach an illusion? Is the photograph itself just a stand-in for reality? Andreas Feininger, the photographer son of Lyonel, inspired List to experiment and to professionalize himself after they met in 1930. Another key influence, somewhat later on, was Man Ray.
Picnic an der Ostsee (1930) is an early "metaphysical" photograph that references a famous painting, namely Georges Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884). Picnic an der Ostsee so incongruously recalls the original that it provokes laughter. Other "metaphysical" photographs echo paintings by di Chirico and Magritte. These images show us the intellectual List, who knew the avant-garde art and artists of his day and made photographs that appealed to this rarefied taste.
By 1941, List had found his way to Athens and was working for the Greek government when the invading Nazis ordered him back to Germany. After a bleak time as a journalist without official credentials, he somehow got back to Paris and worked for the Allies as a journalist and photographer following the liberation of France. Soon after war's end, he returned to Germany, enjoyed a brief boom in reputation, and did photojournalism, traveling widely. List lost interest in photography in about 1960 and collected drawings during the final 15 years of his life.
List took the photo titled Holz Fuer Den Winter (1945) in Munich just after the war was over. We see a child carrying wood for the family stove from a bombed-out building. This and many other images of postwar Munich show List the unsentimental photojournalist at his best. They depict a nation rebuilding after its dreams of empire ended in rubble.
Always the self-centered intellectual, Herbert List did not begin to humanize himself until after World War Two. Even then, his coolness puts us off. He will be remembered as an excellent photographer, but never a great one because he lacked a heart and a center.