Reading a Wave
Ringing in a new year is a time to celebrate with a bang, however at Proto Gallery in Hoboken, 2016 was welcomed by a whisper; Reading a Wave is a 2 person painting show, featuring and co–curated by Ellen Siebers and Ian White Williams. The work, resisting the drama of gargantuan size, is most striking being smaller and more intimate in the ample Hoboken space. Talking with Nick De Pirro, the gallery president, where the show lacks in scale, the paintings gain dignity, and create an intimate environment inside the large white cube of Proto. It’s a welcome air of cool for a new year of exhibitions and a breath of calm in the old, stoic building.
Proto is spacious, located on the first floor of the Neumann leather factory, it balances the white cube of a contemporary art gallery, with the industrial character of the building; white walls cut up by high windows and brick façade. The character of the building functions to frame the space, while simultaneously the work quiets downs the volume of the white cube’s natural presence. One of the most striking features about the survey of paintings is the subtlety of the artists’ color pallets. White is very present, and creates a hazy effect, camouflaging the number of works; even though the show is packed with small pieces, they meritoriously disappear into the white walls. The choice of materials emphasizes the difference of their respective processes; canvas pieces with a present linen weave, versus wooden panels with float frames. Although abstract, discernable objects come through the compositions. Horizontals and verticals that materialize into windowpanes and doors, while simultaneously dissolving, break up color fields, the grain of the canvas approximating denim of old jeans.
“Fish Poem,” a piece by Ellen Siebers, sits on the back wall near the windows. It is a white ground of intersecting blue and black, almost crucifix shaped lines, which offset the perfect square canvas, while simultaneously compartmentalizing the paintings surface. Located near the high, arched windows of the old factory, the juxtaposition of the solid space and ethereal work transform the experience into a cathedral of painting. In contrast, near the center of the gallery away from the wall, Ian White Williams “Oft Owed,” a small, mostly green linen painting, with its present grain and stitch-like rough lines running through, evokes an old pair of jeans, years worn and folded in a drawer. The painters rely on experiential associations between, space, painting, and curation to allow memory to wash over the viewers and lose themselves within the works.
The pieces, hung alternating by artist, Ian, Ellen, Ian, creates a narrative conversation; the wave effect reads as a call and response throughout the space. Both artists negotiate the liminal spaces between heaven and earth, old and new, complete and unfinished, in an ongoing debate of the condition of painting versus the power of process. Talking with Ellen Siebers, one of the artists in the show, the co-curation is clarified. The two artists met at Bushwick open studios and had an instant work connection, kindred spirits. Sessionism, not concept joins the mutual processes. Ellen clarifies that the work’s do not come from mediated resources, like photo-documentation or ongoing series, but rather memory and its fallibility; memory has gaps and its unreliable, while representational painting tends to be straightforward, working in this process allows the paintings to emerge from a space in between what is remembered and what the medium can accomplish. All the paintings are started in sessions; they can take just one day to complete, or many different sittings with the work until what is meant to emerge revels itself, the process removes expectation. The installation proved to be a session in itself, as Ellen informed me both her and Ian came with 20 paintings each, and working in near silence, they moved the works around the space, feeling out where the pieces should go rather than set a plan for how they works should hang. Overall the dynamic lends to a concept of structured structurelessness, where a mix of precision and vulnerability creates the necessary tension to hold even the most ethereal painting together.
Reading a Wave Runs from Saturday, January 16th through Sunday, February 14th.