Pace London is delighted to present IMPULSE, an exhibition that examines American abstract painting in the 1960s and 70s, co-curated by Tamara Corm, and Amelie von Wedel and Pernilla Holmes, Wedel Art. Charting unprecedented experiments in pure colour, improvisational techniques and the sculptural potential of painting, IMPULSE features works by Frank Bowling, Ed Clark, Sam Gilliam, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland that demonstrate the freeform and highly innovative breakthroughs in abstraction in this period. IMPULSE will be on view at Pace, 6 Burlington Gardens, from 3 November – 22 December 2017.
The 60s and 70s were a radical time in the history of abstract painting in America.Emerging from the dominance of Abstract Expressionism in the 50s, Frank Bowling, Ed Clark, Sam Gilliam, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland each experimented with new techniques to push the language of abstract painting forward. While Noland eliminated highly personal, gestural expression in favour of hard-edged abstraction, others poured, dripped, and pushed paint across the surface of the canvases. Many had the desire to break down the distinction between painting and sculpture, to create paintings that were physical objects as well as abstractions. Ed Clark and Kenneth Noland, for example, shaped their canvases, using their unconventional forms as vehicles for colour, while Sam Gilliam beveled the edges of his canvases and eventually took them off the stretcher all together. Pre-eminent art critic Clement Greenberg initially influenced these artists – Bowling, who talked to Greenberg almost daily, recalls that “Clem spoke for us all.” Despite Greenberg’s importance, many of the artists later experimented beyond the ideals and conventions disseminated in his writings. As part of the same cultural network in New York and Washington D.C., yet working individually, the artists on view exchanged ideas and often exhibited together. In 1971, Noland, Clark and Gilliams showed together in the seminal de luxe show, which explored the potency of colour in post-painterly abstraction and was one of the first racially-integrated exhibitions in America.
As part of the Washington Color School in Washington D.C., Noland and later Gilliam emphasised the primacy of colour and frequently used acrylic paints on unprimed canvas. Highlights of the exhibition include Noland’s Indo (1977), a shaped canvas that reveals the emotional effects and expressive potential of colour and form. As explained by Adam Pendleton, “The precision that abstraction requires is often not understood. Noland renders targets, stripes, chevrons as potential, as abstraction. Articulating the seemingly unintelligible through form.”
Louis stained his raw canvases by pouring and folding, often leaving large expanses untouched, as demonstrated by the veil painting Plenitude (1958). In this work, Louis manipulated the angle of the stretcher and varied the tautness of the canvas to direct the poured paint and achieve a tapered effect. Gilliam similarly experimented with the application of his acrylic paint; in May III (1972), he crumpled and folded the canvas while staining it with paint in order to produce innovative effects. As in Louis’ work, in this brushless abstraction, the colours bleed together rhythmically. In After Micro W #2, Gilliam continues his dappled, soak-stained technique and removes the canvas from the stretcher, choosing instead to drape the fabric directly from the wall and break down the boundary between painting and sculpture.
In New York, Bowling and Clark eschewed the use of paint brushes in their search for pure, formal abstraction. In the early 70s, Bowling created a mechanism to pour paint directly onto canvas, mixing and manipulating colours and textures to create Poured Paintings such as Curtain (1974) and Lenoraseas (1976). An early proponent of shaped canvases in the 50s, Ed Clark began using a large push-broom to push paint across the surface of the canvas in the 60s, creating subtly blended and thickly textured stripes of paint such as those in Yucatan Beige (1976), in which the stripes traverse beyond the central ellipse. For Clark, “the floors in New York or Paris are his easels… Gallons, quarts and pints of paint are scattered around [the edges of] his canvas. Each has colors of prime importance.” (Ted Joans, ‘Clark and I,’ Edward Clark: For the sake of the Search, (Belleville Lake, Michigan: Belleville Lake Press, 1997), p.33 )
The works in IMPULSE have rarely been exhibited in the United Kingdom. Despite their renown in the 70s, most of the artists in IMPULSE were largely overlooked in art history for many years. More recently, their works are being reevaluated in major exhibitions such as Soul of a Nation at Tate Modern, Bowling’s recent survey exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor at the Haus Der Kunst and Gilliam’s upcoming solo-exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel. IMPULSE brings these artists’ works together with those of their traditionally better-known peers – Noland and Louis – to reveal how the artists exchanged ideas and developed new methods and techniques in parallel with each other.
Jazz was often a source of inspiration for some of these artists, and a metaphor for how they worked. Between 1960 and the late 1970s, experimental labels such as Columbia and El Saturn released jazz by musicians including John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Ornette Colman and Sun Ra. These musicians took the principles of free jazz to extremes with their embrace of improvised melodies and techniques. Their approaches are echoed in the precociously experimental practices of some of the artists in the exhibition. Noland described jazz musicians as “fellow modernists” and linked painting in this period to music: “what was new was the idea that something you painted could be like something you heard.” (quoted in Karen Wilkin, Kenneth Noland (New York: Rizzoli, 1990), p. 8)
IMPULSE will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an introduction by curators Pernilla Holmes and Amelie von Wedel from Wedel Art and an essay by Adrienne Edwards, Curator at Large of The Walker Art Center. Contributions by artists including, Adam Pendleton, Kasper Sonne, Zach Harris, Samuel Levi Jones and Matthew Collings, reveal how these works are relevant to a younger generation of artists today.
Frank Bowling (b. 1934, Bartica, Guyana) emigrated to London at age 19. After three years in the Royal Air Force, he began his artistic studies and was awarded a scholarship to attend London’s Royal College of Art in 1959. After visiting the United States for the first time with David Hockney in 1961, a Guggenheim Fellowship enabled Bowling to establish a studio in New York in 1967, where he would remain until 1975. In the late 1960s, he transitioned from Pop-inflected figurative expressionism with the development of his Map Paintings, which feature abstract fields of colour overlaid with the stencilled outlines of continents. By the early 1970s, he shifted to purely abstract painting, pouring acrylic paint over tilted canvases and creating textured reliefs with acrylic gel and polystyrene foam. Bowling has had one-artist exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1971); The Serpentine Gallery, London (1986); City Gallery, Leicester (1996); Dallas Museum of Art (2015); and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2017), among others. Bowling was elected to the Royal Academy in 2005.
Ed Clark (b. 1926, New Orleans) is a pioneering Abstract Expressionist known for his bold colours and expansive gestures. He relocated with his family in 1933 from Louisiana to Chicago. After completing military service during World War II, Clark attended the Art Institute of Chicago before going to Paris in 1952, where he studied at L’Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Working abstractly and on an increasing scale in Paris, Clark began using a push broom as a brush to create large-scale gestures. Moving to New York in 1956, he continued to develop his work and exhibit at downtown artist-run galleries, including the Brata Gallery. Clark was among the first artists to produce nonrepresentational shaped paintings in 1956 by extending his working surfaces beyond a rectangular canvas, and developed oval paintings in 1968. He has travelled frequently, working in New York, Paris, Crete, Nigeria, Brazil, and Martinique. With one-artist shows throughout the United States and Europe, Clark received retrospectives at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1980), and at the Pensacola Museum of Art, Florida (2007).
Sam Gilliam (b. 1932, Tupelo, Mississippi), an artist associated with the Washington Color School, is renowned for his suspended and draped paintings. In 1942, Gilliam’s family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he would earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art from the University of Louisville. Moving to Washington, D.C., in 1962, the artist loosened his painterly approach over the course of the decade as he began creating works with thinned acrylic paint. By the late 1960s, Gilliam was soaking canvases in paint and folding them in order to spread the pigment and leave physical imprints of his process. He began to make paintings without stretchers in 1968, suspending and draping colour-stained canvases from walls, ceilings, and sawhorses. The folded, wrapped, and knotted forms of these works bring to attention the sculptural characteristics of their materials, while maintaining their status as paintings. Monographic exhibitions of his work have been presented by The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (1967), The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1971), Rutgers University Art Gallery, New Brunswick, New Jersey (1976), and the Seattle Art Museum, Washington (2017), among others. A retrospective of Gilliam’s paintings was organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 2005.
Morris Louis (b. 1912, Baltimore, Maryland; d. 1962, Washington, D.C.) is one of the leading figures of Colour-Field painting. Having studied at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts, Louis moved to Washington, D.C. in 1952. He is best known for his continual experimentation with colour and medium, manipulating large, unprimed canvases to control the flow of poured acrylic paints. In his 1960 essay “Louis and Noland”, the critic Clement Greenberg described Louis’s unprecedented contribution to painting was for an artist “to feel, think, and conceive almost exclusively in terms of open color.” In the early 1950s, he and Noland collaborated on a series of works they referred to as, using a jazz analogy, the ‘jam paintings’. Following his early death, a memorial exhibition of his work was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1963. Louis’s paintings are held in by public collections internationally, including at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and Tate Gallery, London.
Kenneth Noland (b. 1924, Asheville, North Carolina; d. 2010, Port Clyde, Maine) attended Black Mountain College in the late forties after serving in the Air Force during World War II. While studying there with Josef Albers, he developed an early interest in the emotional effects of colour and geometric forms. He is one of the best-known American Colour-Field painters, and helped establish the Washington Color School in the 1950s. A commitment to line and colour can be traced throughout his oeuvre beginning with his Circle paintings and extending through a visual language that includes chevrons, diamonds, horizontal bands, plaid patterns, and shaped canvases. In 1977, a major travelling retrospective of the artist’s work was presented by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The first major monograph analyzing his career was written by Kenworth Moffett and published by Abrams in 1977. Memorial retrospectives of his work were presented in 2010 by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Wedel Art is an art advisory firm with special expertise in Modern and Contemporary Art founded by Amelie von Wedel. Wedel Art works with private, institutional and corporate clients on theircollections, exhibition programmes, specialprojects andphilanthropy, as well as curatingexhibitions and artist projects internationally. Amelie von Wedelhasorganised numerous exhibitions with artists such as Sam Gilliam, Frank Bowling and Laurie Simmons, along with many survey exhibitions, books on art, and commissioning major performance art and public art projects. She is also Group Executive Director of Intelligence Squared, andregularly gives talks on art at institutions internationally. As a Director at Wedel Art, Pernilla Holmes’ curatorial projects have included exhibitions with artists such as Theaster Gates and Samuel Levi Jones, themed group shows from post-war to present, and performance works with artists including Nastio Mosquito, on behalf of the EMDASH foundation, and Ryan McNamara. Holmes has written extensively about contemporary art, as well as giving talks at museums and institutions. Visit Wedel Art online at www.wedelart.com