On Adam Pendleton

Painting as Process and Performance

Adam Pendleton Working in the Studio

Painting is a very rich and mercurial way of thinking.

Adam Pendleton

Adam Pendleton’s practice has always centered on creating spaces of engagement and, in his own words, “fighting for the right to exist in and through abstraction.” In this pursuit, the artist has been guided by a visual and structural philosophy he has termed “Black Dada,” an ongoing inquiry into Blackness and its relationship to abstraction and historical conceptions of the avant-garde that is on full view in An Abstraction, his first solo exhibition at Pace’s New York gallery in ten years following numerous institutional projects around the world.

Here, we take a close look at Pendleton’s painting process, breaking down the technical and formal dynamics of his compositions and the modes of thought that have inspired his latest compositions.

A Visual Archive of Process

Built up in layers of spray paint, stenciled geometries, and expressionistic brushstrokes, Pendleton’s paintings and drawings are testimonies of his process in the studio. For him, each work is a visual archive of its own, indexing and documenting the physical, performative act of painting within the pictorial fields of his compositions.

This way of thinking about a painting as a record of a specific moment and place, the artist says, underpins his “very particular approach to gesture, mark making, and ultimately, experimentation.” In the case of his latest paintings, Pendleton’s frenetic, layered abstractions speak to the condition of being alive in 2024 and our attendant inundation with information, images, and other stimuli. The artist sees this formal phenomenon in his paintings as “a reflection of our multi-sensorial experience” of the world today.

Adam Pendleton Painting
Detail Shot of Adam Pendleton's Work in Studio

One could say that scale, color, and texture are details, but they’re really a set of decisions, and when one is intentional about them, I think it brings a different kind of focus or sense of possibility to the work.

Adam Pendleton

Tender Encounters: Gesture and Mark Making

While creating the new paintings in his Black Dada and Untitled (Days) bodies of work, Pendleton found himself meditating on the simultaneous fragility and fortitude of the body—how our bodies change, fail us at certain moments, and exceed our expectations at other times. In his words, there’s “something so humble” about recognizing the body’s potential and fallibility as part of the painting process.

Adam Pendleton Painting in the Studio

Increasingly, I’ve been thinking about how tender painting is, which might sound odd initially, but it’s really something that I’ve recognized while I’m painting—that it’s all about what my body can do.

Adam Pendleton

Adam Pendleton studio shot

It’s in these philosophical terms that Pendleton also explores the relationship between the mutable, unpredictable dimensions of painting and the ways that he exerts control as the artist. Resolve and chance both have roles to play in his process, which hinges on a call and response between what he creates intentionally using his body and what happens outside his will.

Painting is about awareness—awareness of the self, awareness of the gesture, awareness of the mark, and awareness of the potential for all those individual elements to come together and apart.

Adam Pendleton

Geometry, Color, and Useful Chaos

In this give and take between intention and happenstance, Pendleton investigates what emerges when the hard edges of geometric shapes are softened, rendered porous and poetic. Engaging with histories of Modernism and the avant-garde, he poses a rhetorical question—“who owns geometry?”—to think through the lineage of geometric abstraction and to bring his own practice into that space.

I want to use whatever is necessary so that the chaos is useful.

Adam Pendleton

Pendleton Still in Studio

In his new Black Dada paintings, he has expanded his vocabulary of color, infusing his compositions with purples, reds, and other metallic tones. The rich washes of color on the surfaces of these works, for Pendleton, “put my attention—and the viewer’s attention—on process, and how process merges with different formal possibilities.”

Architectural Dynamics: Activating the Space Between

Recently, the exhibition itself has taken on new meaning in Pendleton’s practice. He’s interested in bringing the formal architectures of his paintings into the exterior spaces beyond his canvases, encouraging a deeper, more totalizing encounter for the viewer—a “hyper-awareness of all the dynamics at work or at play,” as he puts it.

It’s about activating the in-between space—the space between the viewer and the painting.

Adam Pendleton

Adam Pendleton's Library

In An Abstraction, Pendleton continues these kinds of experimentations with form and space, hanging his paintings and drawings within a monumental, site-specific architecture consisting of five black triangular forms. With these sculptural walls, he proposes new ideas about the sensorial and conceptual terms of exhibition making and the exhibition itself as form, extending the visual language of his two-dimensional works into the three-dimensional world.

Adam Pendleton Writing in Studio
Black Dada (A/A) by Adam Pendleton

Above: Adam Pendleton, Black Dada (A/A), 2024 © Adam Pendleton

The Exhibition

An Abstraction, Pendleton’s first solo show at our New York gallery in ten years, follows his numerous institutional projects around the world. Featuring new paintings and drawings from his Black Dada and Untitled (Days) bodies of work hung within a monumental, site-specific architecture, the exhibition sheds light on the ways that Pendleton’s paintings index and document his physical processes in the studio.

Read More About The Exhibition

Adam Pendleton book cover

The Special Edition Catalogue

Learn more about these 40 special editions hand-painted by Adam Pendleton on the occasion of the artist's first extensive European solo exhibition, mounted at mumok - Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, in 2023. The catalogue includes texts by by Marianne Dobner, Lynne Tillman, Adam Pendleton, Simone White, as well as a conversation with Lauren O’Neill-Butler and Adam Pendleton.

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  • Content — Painting as Process and Performance, Apr 8, 2024