Stain painting has long been deployed as a tactic for disrupting the relationship between image and ground. Artists such as Morris Louis, Dan Christensen, and Ronnie Landfield each used it uniquely, expanding on its power to signify and evade. Although the technique isn’t novel, stain painting’s practitioners are so infrequent that it retains a startling power. Though Frankenthaler and Parrott are radically different painters, removed by time and place, their works exhibit some of the variety and possibilities of stain painting. Shown together, they demonstrate aspects of the discipline’s past, and very likely, some of its future.
Frankenthaler was one of the few women in the abstract expressionist movement and was one of the most famous artists of her generation. Expanding on Jackson Pollock’s use of poured paint, Frankenthaler poured, soaked, and manipulated color with industrial brushes and other non-traditional art tools, similar to the contemporary painter Robert Janitz. In her 1984 Quattrocento, Frankenthaler used opposing turquoise and pink to create tension across the painting’s surface. The paint defies our typical reading of surface by its fusion with the unprimed canvas support. And she highlights an intellectual and material struggle with her medium. “There is a dialogue between the artist and what he/she is making—that it’s yours, you’re in control of it,” Frankenthaler once said. “But you also have to be ready to hear, ‘I’m finished, don’t add another drop, stop.’ It’s tricky and I think very often one misses the moment.”
Thirty years later, the England-born and based Aimee Parrott uses stain painting in a very different way. Her use of color is spare, as in Fake Slate and Secondary Wrinkles (all works 2014), with their waves of gray paint applied in long, sweeping arcs not unlike Frankenthaler’s wide strokes. Several works use daubs of thin color, dispersed and overlapping, across the canvas’s surface. Crust (Over-lap) and First Hand, Second Hand make only the barest assertions of paint on canvas, emphasizing the artistic choice of every blot. The paint is so thin that it appears spectral, opening up immense visual space in a purely flat canvas. Crust is particularly inventive, adding extra dimensionality through the addition of a thin silk veil, transfer-printed with ink.
Staining reduces the physical dimensions of a painted canvas to absolute flatness. But the urgency of visual depth and emotional resonance are consequently heightened. As Frankenthaler and Parrott demonstrate, the fugitive nature of staining engages our desire to pursue.
“Soaked, Not Resting” is on view at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London, Jan. 23–Feb. 21, 2015.