At the San Francisco Art Institute, where she had been both a student and a teacher, Breuer developed a voice and conceptual framework she described as “the non-objective, which filled a spiritual expression released through my artwork.” Her paintings from that time are in line with those of her contemporary color field painters such as Helen Frankenthaler, but upon a move cross country, she shed this methodology for a different manner of experimental technique.
Breuer’s resettling in New York in 1976, where she rented a space in Julian Schnabel’s loft, marked the beginning of a period during which she produced her best-known works; a group whose defining characteristic is its experimental approach to texture and mark-making. By applying paint directly with a palette knife, Breuer filled the canvas with gestural, repetitive scrapes that build up into dense fields of vibrant color. Using an intuitive sense of rhythm and flow, Breuer’s works contain a natural patterning, and actively engage the negative space of the canvas as a positive force. These New York paintings, such as Untitled (70x40) (1979) and 7.16.83 (As Good As Gold) (1983) have a heavy force to them, generally defined by a single dominating color and occasionally allowing another tone to peek through layers as a stabilizing element.
In 1984, Breuer moved to Santa Fe, where she “painted quietly,” which led her paintings to develop a much airier feel, reflecting the openness of the New Mexico landscape that has inspired so many artists. In 6-30-95 (1995) and 9-22-98 (1998), she introduces wax into her painting process and spreads her marks across the canvas. Gone is the dense, overlapping congestion of New York; the move offers a seeming appreciation of subtlety, possibility in the breadth of pictorial space, and a symbolic nod to the strength of individual solitude. Ever since, Breuer has remained a resident of Santa Fe, where she is still going strong at 88 years old.
“Mala Breuer: New York to Santa Fe,” is on at Bentley Gallery, Phoenix, Apr. 23–May 30, 2015.