Contemporary Artists Explore the Visual Potential of White

Artsy Editorial
Mar 14, 2014 2:41PM

When Kasimir Malevich created his quintessential Suprematist white painting in 1918, White on White, he distilled painting to its key elements, encouraging consideration of material, surface and texture. Inspired by this pursuit of purity, Robert Rauschenberg created a series of White Paintings in 1951, monochromatic canvases that were meant to appear untouched by human hands. It was also in the 1950’s that Robert Ryman began his primarily white paintings on square surfaces. In the 1960’s Morris Louis created his  predominantly white “Unfurleds” series, featuring streams of color over blank canvases. Sam Francis engaged in a similar tendency throughout his career, constantly considering the white of the canvas. In “ONE THIRD WHITE,” a group show on view now at Artspace Warehouse, this dialogue with white continues, exploring the works of several artists and the multidimensional, and emotional potential of white.  

Similar to Malevich, Jennifer Hansen builds discernible layers on top of a white canvas, albeit through a mixed-media technique. Beginning with charcoal and graphite drawings, Hansen applies oil paint on top of her figures, intentionally leaving their forms incomplete, symbolically conveying “the complexities of people and how we are each not yet completed.” A similar mixed-media layered practice is found in the works of Brenda Holzke, who creates multifaceted composites of painting and strips of paper. Often overpainting to develop harmony between color, form and texture, Holzke leaves the traces of her process visible, leaving her works accessible.

Other artists on view work in a vein closer to Louis and Francis, employing the luminous potential of white within a composition. In his works resembling window panes, often with glowing white segments, Ron Piller layers sheets of newsprint over wood, maps out his geometric shapes in red pencil, and then uses acrylic and resin to add color and a shiny surface. Barbara Kolo leaves the vast white of the paper in her ink and graphite dot works—careful yet dizzying swarms of pencil markings and a seemingly infinite number of black and grey dots. Each piece—titled after the number of dots it contains—is created with stamps, and through repetition and variations in pressure, Kolo adds dynamism to blank white surfaces. Mike Becker also uses repetitive markings, yet in a divergent process where he covers his canvases in acrylics, with signs of white seeing through. Inspired by human interventions in nature, Becker’s works resemble organic materials that have been repeatedly altered and scraped, closely attuned to surface and texture

“ONE THIRD WHITE” is on view at Artspace Warehouse, Los Angeles, Mar. 15th–Apr. 25th, 2014.

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Artsy Editorial