In the last 20 years, much of Winters’s output has been dedicated to that concept of making energy visible. The shapes of computer chips, neural networks, and EKG charts have inspired some of his recent paintings. Winters isn’t exactly trying to depict these things; instead, he riffs loosely on their forms, like a saxophonist playing variations on a melody. “Winters rarely abandons motifs,” Gilman, from the Drawing Center, told Artsy, “but rather adapts and reintegrates them into new compositions, thereby giving them new life.” Echoing the Process Art he studied in the late 1970s, Winters’s works suggest his own struggle to make sense of the unknown—a struggle in which the viewer can’t help but participate.
But the unknown never quite makes sense in his art, no matter how intently the viewer looks. Partly for this reason, Winters’s work has been interpreted as a metaphor for the way in which information is processed in the 21st century. In drawings such as 7-Fold Sequence, One (2008), recognizable patterns don’t proceed as planned: They develop sudden glitches, breaking down into unpredictable, mutant forms. The same goes for the shapes that recur in “12twelvepaintings,” a series Winters completed in 2017. Inspired by a variety of technical illustrations he found on the Internet, Winters invented wild, colorful patterns that took on lives of their own, so that—save for the deadpan titles (Cell, Cobalt, Cinnabar)—it’s almost impossible to tell what their source images depicted.
Isn’t this more or less how data gets passed along in the Information Age? The data in question could be anything—a tweet, a news story on Facebook, a computer virus—but the more it’s circulated, the less familiar it becomes. Whether you welcome or condemn this process, you can’t deny that it’s changed the way we communicate—and, if Terry Winters is any indication, the way we make art. In 2012, when asked about his creative methods, Winters replied, “The challenge is to describe another possible world.” Looking back at the compelling, dizzying work he’s produced since the 1970s, it seems that world might be the one we’re all now living in.