The Shape Shifters

Peyton Wright Gallery is pleased to announce The Shape Shifters, an exploration of paintings by 20th and 21st century artists who work with the shaped canvas. The exhibition will feature works dating from the mid-1960s through the present day. The exhibition will open on Friday, July 7, and will remain on view until August 2. There will be an opening reception on Friday, July 7 from 5-7pm.

The concept of the painting as a discrete view into an illusory three-dimensional space is nearly as old as painting itself. Since the advent of easel painting the employment of standard shapes—rectangles and squares—served to reinforce the perception of a window or portal into a reality beyond that of the object itself. Paintings that deviated from the traditional rectangular and square formats have been around since the Renaissance when arched and round pictures (tondos) became popular, but such variations in form were not intended to affect the conceptual basis of the work.

By the early 20th century modernist painters such as Piet Mondrian had begun to experiment with forms other than the standard 90-degree angle configurations. In the post-War years young artists such as the Italian Lucio Fontana, the English artist Richard Smith, and American painters such as Ellsworth Kelly, Leon Polk Smith, Kenneth Noland, Robert Mangold, Richard Tuttle and Frank Stella started to explore the possibilities of irregularly shaped supports for their abstractions. Their insistence on the painting as a singular two-dimensional object rejected any suggestion of pictorial illusion and the subliminal relation of traditional pictorial formats to landscape (the horizontal rectangle) and portraiture (the vertical rectangle). By 1964, the movement had gained sufficient currency for the Guggenheim Museum in New York to present the exhibition The Shaped Canvas, curated by Lawrence Alloway. The Shape Shifters examines the approaches of six painters to the continuing dialogue between color, form, dimensionality and the relation of viewer and artwork.

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About the Artists
Mokha Laget is a New Mexico-based painter known for her geometric abstractions that utilize shaped canvas to take hard-edge color field imagery into another dimension. Her work has been exhibited internationally over the past 30 years and has been written about in Art in America, The New Art Examiner, The Washington Post, Art Ltd., and many others. Her work is included in the collections of the Ulrich Museum, The Museum of Geometric and Madi Art, Art in Embassies, The Artery Collection, The National Institutes of Health as well as private and corporate collections around the world.

Born in North Africa, a region of radiant light and dramatic geographical contrasts, Mokha went on to study Fine Arts at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC. There she studied under several prominent members of the Washington Color School (WCS), an influential non-objective painting group whose principal members included Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Thomas Downing, Howard Mehring and Paul Reed. During her years in DC, she worked as a professional artist and studio assistant to WCS painter Gene Davis.

Mokha has enjoyed a diverse career characterized by travel, color, and curiosity. In addition to her painting practices, she has also worked as an independent curator, art restorer, arts writer and was Curatorial Assistant for the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts. In theatre, she was a set designer, scriptwriter, actor and director. With a degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, she has spent much of the past 25 years traveling parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia as a simultaneous French interpreter. She lives and works in an off-grid studio in the mountains of New Mexico.
(1928 - 1985)
Thomas Downing was born in Suffolk, Virginia. He studied at Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948. He then studied at the Pratt Institute, a well-known art school in Brooklyn, New York, until 1950. That year he received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, enabling him to travel to Europe, where he studied briefly at the Académie Julian in Paris.

In 1951 he returned to the United States, and after serving in the U.S. Army, settled in Washington, D.C., where he began to teach, in 1953.
The following summer, he enrolled in a summer institute at Catholic University, studying under Kenneth Noland. He became a friend of Noland, who became a significant influence on Downing's art and who was one of the founders of the Washington Color Field Movement.

In the late 1950s, Downing shared a studio with Howard Mehring, another artist of the Washington Color School and Color Field painting. In 1964 Clement Greenberg included Noland, Mehring, Downing and others in his traveling museum exhibition called Post-painterly Abstraction.

From 1965 to 1968, Downing taught at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C. There he taught several people who in their turn became artists influenced by Downing's ideas, including Sam Gilliam.
His paintings to a large extent consisted of circles arranged in precise patterns on the canvas, with colors often chosen according to ideas of symmetry. Downing's Spot Paintings are his best known works.

In the last ten years of his life, Downing lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He died in October 1985 in Provincetown, Massachusetts at the age of 57. In its obituary the Washington Times characterized his death as mysterious. The newspaper was referring to the then recent demise of Washington Color Field artist Gene Davis (1920–1985) and to the earlier death of Howard Mehring (1931–1978), as well.
(1935 - 2005)
Alvin Loving Jr. was an innovative African American artist whose diverse body of work included striking geometric paintings. Just a year after leaving his native Detroit for New York in 1969, Loving was given a solo show at the Whitney Museum. Of the exhibition, Loving later reflected: “My geometric abstractions of this time represented a post-graduate end to my education in western culture and art history. The Whitney show would force me to scramble to find my own non-eclectic position in art.” Throughout his career, Loving developed a recognizably bold style, organizing vivid color into arresting visual arrangements with precision and subtlety.
(B. 1932)
Charles Hinman, known for his shaped-canvas sculpture, was born in Syracuse, New York on December 29, 1932. He attended art classes at Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (now Everson Museum of Art) and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University in 1955. He was a professional baseball pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves while pursuing his BFA. From 1955 to 1966, he studied at the Art Students League; then served in the United States Army from 1956 to 1958.

Hinman lived in New York City and held various part-time jobs while he continued to paint. Charles Hinman taught painting and engineering drawing at Staten Island Academy, New York from 1960 to 1962, and was the shop instructor at Woodmere Academy on Long Island from 1962 to 1964. In these two positions, he developed carpentry and engineering skills that gave him the ability to construct his own shaped canvases with complex three-dimensional curves.

In 1963, while seeking an independent path, he created his first shaped canvases in his studio on the Bowery, where Will Insley, who was also working on shaped canvases, and Robert Indiana had studios, as well.

Hinman first received critical attention in the exhibition 7 New Artisits at the Sidney Janis Gallery in May 1964 where he exhibited flat canvases cut at angles and suspended by cords. The other artists in the exhibition were: Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Norman Ives, Robert Slutsky, Robert Whitman, and Arakawa.

Hinman went on to add the third dimension to his shaped canvases while examining the subtle boundary between the picture plane and the space in front of it, as well as playing with the idea of literal versus illusionistic depth.

Usually Hinman begins his work by building charcoal drawings of volumetric shapes. Out of the series of drawings, he will select one drawing and turn it into “shop drawings” to determine how the organic shape can be turned into a constructed form with intricate shape stretchers supporting it. While building the armature, he addresses the level of three-dimensionality of the work. Once the work has been stretched with canvas and given a ground, he then determines colors, often creating more sketches and repainting areas several times.

In the 1960’s, Hinman used bright colors in his work adding an almost Pop aesthetic to his canvases, such as Poltergeist, 1964, which is in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He said he was then using color as if he were painting a hot rod. In 1975, Hinman began an all-white series of paintings. Returning to color in the late 1970’s, Hinman treated color as spatial indicators with each color representing a different canvas unit; each color having a separate stretcher underneath it. With a more muted palette of grays, silvers, and tans, the artist attained subtle interactions of color shapes interlocking with each other in space within a rhythmic order.

Hinman’s first solo exhibition was at the Feigen Gallery in New York in Nov.-Dec.1964, quickly followed by exhibitions with Feigen in 1965 at both his New York and Chicago galleries. Out of the 1964 show, the Museum of Modern Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and Nelson Rockefeller purchased works. In 1965, Hinman was one of four Americans invited to exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Nagaoka, Japan where Hinman shared first prize with the Japanese artist Jiro Takamatsu. More solo and group exhibitions followed with Feigen through 1969 and then Hinman signed on with the Paris dealer Denise Rene, having solo exhibitions at Galerie Denise Rene in Paris in 1971 and then in her New York gallery in 1972, 1973 and 1975.

Hinman has visited Japan, Thailand, India, Iran, Greece, Italy, France and England. He served as artist-in-Residence, Aspen, Colorado in 1966. Hinman has taught at Cornell University and at Syracuse University. He has also held teaching positions at Pratt Institute, School of Visual Arts, the Cooper Union, Princeton University, University of Georgia campuses in Athens, Georgia and Cortona, Italy, and other distinguished institutions. Presently, he is teaching at the Art Students League of New York. In 1989, Hinman’s work traveled to Russia for an exhibition organized by Donald Kuspit titled Painting Beyond the Death of Painting at the Kuznetsky Most Exhibition Hall in Moscow. Hinman has credited Russian Supremacists as having a strong influence on his work.

Museum collections with Charles Hinman’s work include: the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; the Phoenix Art Museum, AZ; the Denver Art Museum, CO; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the Nagaoke Museum in Japan; the Louisiana Museum in Denmark; the Tel Aviv Museum in Israel; and the Pfalzgalerie Museum in Germany, among others.

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(1936 - 1989)
Leo Valledor (1935–1989) was a Filipino-American painter who was a pioneer of the hard-edge painting style. During the 1960s he was a member of the Park Place Gallery in Soho, New York, which exhibited many influential and significant artists of the period. He exhibited in several prominent galleries and museums, such as the Graham Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. He was the Exhibition Director and teacher at Lone Mountain College. He was a two-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Artist Fellowship Grant, and was a leader of the minimalist movement in the 1970s.

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(1906 - 1996)
The power in the art of Brancusi and Mondrian had an early and profound effect on Leon Polk Smith who became one of the leading American non-objective color-field precisionists. Smith's success lied in his ability to create works which had a simple, colorful hard-edge presence. His strongest examples of these artistic tenets can be found in his Constellation Series, beginning in 1967.

Native American born artist Leon Polk Smith came to New York City, at 30 years of age, in 1936 to study at Columbia University's Teachers' College. The young artist began his career depicting subjects inspired by life in Oklahoma and New York in an amalgam of Surrealist and Expressionist styles. The power of Brancusi and Mondrian's art was ultimately irresistible to Smith, and in 1945, he began to explore the formal problems inherent in the creation of non-objective art.

Smith shared Mondrian's affection for New York, writing in 1989: "New York City revealed its physical self to me through the mountains and canyons of the Southwest. There were the ups and downs--the high peaks, the in-betweens, or the canyons, and topped with the great dome....I felt the city to be a perfect equation for a great abstraction." (Ratcliff, 1996).

The New York experience was a turning point, and he never looked back. His genius in extending the boundaries of the available geometric tenants truly took hard-edge minimalism to the next level. His free-hand approach, use of diagonals and circles and the abandonment of the European geometricians' grids would "re-invent the purpose of geometric abstraction".

Smith's work is including in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the National Gallery of Art.
Donald Roy Thompson was born in 1936, in Fowler, California. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Sacramento State University in 1960 and 1962, respectively. His most notable art instructor was Wayne Thiebaud. Among his classmates were Fritz Scholder and Merrill Mahaffey, both successful artists in Santa Fe.

From 1964-2000 Donald was an art instructor at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. Before he settled down to teach, Donald traveled and lived in Mexico City, where he was able to observe closely the murals of Diego Rivera.

Like so many color field painters of his generation, Thompson was influenced by Johannes Itten and Josef Albers, as well as by Matisse and Mondrian.

During an impoverished time in his early art career he was unable to afford good quality paint, so instead he used layers of hand-dyed cheesecloth for a large installation at the Cabrillo College Gallery. It helped form the basis of the ideas of transparency that he later produced in his acrylic color field paintings of 1971-75.

In 1972 Donald began again to use opaque colors on various sizes of canvas, focusing on the illusion of transparency.

By 1974 he began to feel the need for greater physicality and began to employ the use of stretched canvases of a single color bolted together, from large to huge (7.5’ X 10’), now in the Oakland Museum.

In 2013 Thompson settled in Santa Fe. There he began his current series of work, rekindling an aesthetic from four decades previous.

He continues to refine his approach and vision.

“I am habitually focused on the relationship of colors!” he wrote in July of 2022. “I’ve tried, in my paintings during the recent past, to experiment with various forms of pictorial composition - both symmetrical and asymmetrical.

My current challenge is combining the geometric with curvilinear form in an effort to achieve an integrated synthesis of the two, as they are experienced in hard-edge color painting. “

Thompson has exhibited solo and group shows both nationally and internationally. These include solo shows at Larry Evans/Willis Gallery, Foster Goldstrom, and Galeria Carl Van der Voort in San Francisco, and Ibiza, Spain. He had solo shows at Frederick Spratt Gallery in San Jose, California, as well as Shasta College Gallery in Redding, California and Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. His group shows include Leila Taghinia-Milani, New York City, Basel Art Fair, Switzerland and the Second British International Print Biennale, Yorkshire, England.

Thompson’s paintings are found in major collections including The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.; Seattle First National Bank (Seafirst), Seattle, WA; Crocker Museum, Sacramento, CA, Art Museum of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz, CA.

Watch an interview with Donald Roy Thompson with art historian Kathryn Davis

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(1918 - 2007)
In a 1980 article in Southwest Art, Janet Lippincott addressed who she was as an artist: "Abstract painting is an intellectual process. To be a modern painter and to make a truthful statement is the sum total of all I am and what I am continually striving to create. I am a painter and my paintings are all I can contribute to this world." Working away from the major art centers, Lippincott had a singular devotion to her art - a quest to find a pure expression based in color and form. New Mexico afforded her a place to work independently without the distractions of the New York art scene.

Born in New York into a privileged family, she went to museums with her Aunt Gertrude, a modern dancer. When she saw her first Picasso, Lippincott was hooked, and residing in Paris for a period as a child brought her in contact with the most contemporary movements. At age fifteen, she took a life-drawing class at the Art Students League, where she would later enroll full time.

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