Featuring divergent works in various media, The Stubborn Influence of Painting at BMoCA lets guest curator Kate Petley make the case for artists breaking free of preconceived notions.
BOULDER, CO—The concept had been percolating in Colorado artist Kate Petley’s mind for quite some time: what if a group exhibition could demonstrate how the principles of painting cross over into other mediums, often in surprising ways? What if that exhibition had no actual paintings? Would viewers pick up on the artists’ grasp of texture, color, layering, perspective, mood, and other hallmarks of successful paintings?
As Petley continued exploring her thesis on painterly connections in diverse media, she proposed an exhibition to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. After getting the go-ahead, she launched what would be her first experience as a curator.
Petley, who is represented by Robischon Gallery in Denver, is nationally known for her abstract canvases and works on paper incorporating a variety of materials—archival prints, ink, paint, film, and salvaged cardboard, to name a few. Her solo exhibition, Staring into the Fire, is slated for the University of Colorado Boulder Art Museum beginning August 17.
Defying categorization of her art has long been part of Petley’s philosophy, and she brings that idea to bear in the BMoCA show. For The Stubborn Influence of Painting, on display through September 6, 2021, Petley selected nine established artists working in ceramics, installation art, photography, textiles, found objects, and video. And the title is apropos. The artists excel in their respective crafts because of and in spite of painting’s profound influence.
As Petley notes during a walk-through of the show, think of the history of painting as being a “silent collaborator” in the works on view. And yet the artists—who hail from across the country and from London—dare to experiment and eschew boundaries.
One prime example is Alexandra Hedison, who shows pieces from her series Found Painting (The In-Between). Each work is a photograph of a Paris storefront window that has been whitewashed to denote the building’s emptiness. But each print comes alive with detail, whether it be the torn corners of a once-attached handbill, the particular “found” swirls of paint, or the window’s reflection of a neighboring building. Petley points out that Hedison’s work reveals exactly the kind of decision-making in composition and light that a painter might make.
Featured in a small upstairs gallery is Night Buoy by the pioneering video installation artist peter campus. Playing on a relatively small screen, the work is a mesmerizing display of bluish pixels that sway and sparkle to evoke the movement of the sea and the play of light on its surface. The isolation and manipulation of pixels calls to mind chunky brushstrokes in still lifes, although the connection might not have overtly influenced campus, Petley says.
“All of these artists respond in some way with painting sort of as a ghost in the room—whether they do it intentionally or they do it more tangentially,” Petley says.
A good example of a tangential relationship is the work of Philip V. Augustin. He’s represented by several photograms that verge on optical illusions as they play with geometric shapes, light, and shadows. Influenced by geometric abstraction? Maybe, Petley says, but the more interesting aspect is Augustin’s decisions about layering, tonal contrasts, and misaligned forms, as when a wedge of light strays ever so slightly from the white circle from which it seems to emanate.
In a similar vein, Nikolai Ishchuk’s Threshold series of four gelatin silver prints are also produced in a darkroom, without a camera. Transcending those limitations, Ishchuk creates voids of inky blackness surrounded by marbled brown fields, and to suggest vastness, he spreads the images over several sheets of photographic paper. The works are moody and contemplative, which also could be said of many an abstract painting.
Nearby, the diminutive rug-hooked works of Altoon Sultan offer a more whimsical mood, with their experiments in shape and color. Up close, viewers can see the great care Sultan took with gradations of color using hand-dyed wool as well as the meticulous rows of stitches. Especially clever are the works that mimic folded paper.
Also working in textiles is Steven Frost, whose thoughts about Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed weighed heavily on his mind as he wove the five-by-twelve-foot After Dorothea Rockburne. Frost explores the fluidity of materials in incorporating not only yarn and cord, but also shredded T-shirts, feather boas, and beads in a strikingly colored and textured arrangement.
Three other artists offer further proof of the exhibition’s embrace of all media: Garry Noland’s small wall pieces constructed from foam, marbles, cabinet doors, and other found objects; Naomi Cohn’s funky ceramic vessels with their paint drips and splotches; and Gelah Penn’s installations with their gestural layering of mylar, netting, garbage-bag swatches, and other castoffs. All the artists show a reverence for their materials that is quite astounding, Petley says.
“The individual mediums are really not the point of the show, because categories can be erased,” Petley adds. “This show has to be felt, not overanalyzed. You do have to spend some time with each artist and their sensibilities, and you need to fully experience these pieces as objects, all of them.”
The Stubborn Influence of Painting is on display from June 10 through September 6, 2021, at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street.