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.View Catalogue
About the Artists
"I manipulate spatial conventions within the confines of geometric abstraction and engage the viewer in an interactive exploration of perceptual ambiguity within the shaped canvas as object and its embedded planes.
I use a highly refined chromatic sensibility (developed in my formative years in the Mediterranean desert and later as studio assistant to Washington Color School Painter Gene Davis), to alternatively support or undermine the illusionistic spatial constructs of the painting. To that effect, I have developed a clay-based paint with a deeply flat matte and tactile surface which I layer for maximum light absorption.
I create shaped canvases to eliminate the traditional rectilinear boundary, and allow the internal dynamics of the piece to extend beyond the painting to external vanishing points.
My work expands on the WCS and Colorfield painters who avoided techniques suggesting depth, preferring planar surfaces and repetitive elements, whereas I deliberately explore perceptual mechanisms to create scale, spatial disruption and color ambiguity."
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.
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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.
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. By 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. He 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.
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, Second British International Print Biennale, Yorkshire, England, and "40 Now California Painters," an invitational show that toured the Southeast. 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.
Donald Thompson’s exhibitions have been reviewed well by Thomas Albright of the San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 1964, Sept. 28, 1967; Henry Hopkins, The Tampa Tribune, April, 16, 1968; Mark Levy, Artweek, December 18, 1982; Claude LeSuer, ArtSpeak, June 23, 1983, New York, N.Y.
Watch an interview with Donald Roy Thompson with art historian Kathryn Davis
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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