Inventory in Context: The Visionaries

Hollis Taggart Galleries
Dec 28, 2016 9:14PM

INVENTORY IN CONTEXT aims to creatively contextualize works from our gallery collection, both historical and contemporary. Please look forward to a new installment each month.

Long a part of the painterly tradition, visionary art is more than copying nature; it is spiritual access to another nature. It is significant in its heightened quality as art where a painting is no longer a mere object, but a vehicle to another place. Defined, visionary art is a porthole into a consciousness unattainable in this world, un-seeable with the naked eye. According to Richard Pousette-Dart, every prophet, every religious figure in the course of human history was an artist in his own right. Art was religion, and religion, art. He also believed in the dependence of these variables upon one another; neither could exist without the other. This philosophical stance privileges the artist as a charismatic conductor with a certain allure, making art that offers entry to someplace hypnotic and new.

Middleton Manigault was a chameleonic American modernist, who in his short career dabbled in Realism, Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, and Cubism. Still Life with Flowers from 1918 is composed as a traditional still life – the draped background, the fruit, and the varying textures of ceramics and basket. These staged elements and their contrasts in surface embody the formulaic standard for still life paintings, which have always existed to show off an artist’s menagerie of talents: transparency and opacity, plush velvet and slick, polished wood, the organic and the inorganic, all contained in a single image.

What makes Manigualt’s Still Life with Flowers an exceptional work of modernist painting is its color. It is unabashed in its psychedelic color play, with the use of punchy lime green, vibrant fuchsia, and shimmering yellow. The enameled inside of the bowl is like the iridescent insides of an abalone shell, rendered in gradients of pink and gold. But how might the artist have arrived at such an unusual palette? The viewer can imagine Manigault staring intently at the arrangement for his still life. After looking for a long while, he then closes his eyes tightly, and the image imprinted on the back of his eyelids, a negative of the real-life arrangement, is what he paints. So, he paints what he sees, but he sees things differently. Rather than painting the image, he paints the afterimage.

Viewing Richard Pousette-Dart’s paintings only through the confines of a formal lens is to miss the most significant part of what made him one of the great American painters of the twentieth century. Unlike his Abstract Expressionist peers, Pousette-Dart rejected the brutish physical gesture that came to define American painting at midcentury. Moreover, the viewer would be amiss to conflate Pousette-Dart’s use of geometry with the so-called “pure-form” reductionism of artists like Ad Reinhardt or Barnett Newman. Pousette-Dart’s squares, circles and triangles were, instead, talismans plucked from Sacred Geometry, which insisted upon the hermetic quality of individual shapes and of one shape imposed on another. Pousette-Dart is an icon painter. The paintings are about a confrontation with the human experience. They are transportive to a place that is not of this world. His work is phenomenological. It is experiential, and Pale Image is no exception. It is, in fact, a pale image, but upon closer examination, freckles of primary colors are revealed beneath larger daubs of white paint. Stepping back a grid is revealed, and stepping further back, an elliptical shape emerges as an eye. His paintings, even this small-scale work on paper, beg close examination and thoughtful contemplation in order to both recognize their symbolism, and then to become lost in it.

In John Knuth’s recent body of work, paintings materialize with the help of some unlikely studio assistants. Within the confines of a netted feeding area, thousands of flies consume sugar water mixed with pigment. The flies then digest their polychromatic meal directly onto the canvas, populating its surface with hundreds of thousands of flecks of flyspeck. Conceptually, Knuth is not so different from Pousette-Dart, who was attracted to pure, universal symbols that transcend regional or chronological limitations. The final result, as is the case with Epicenter, is a totally immersive painting, phenomenologically similar to Pousette-Dart’s paintings in that they require the viewer to submit to the totality of the canvas. Knuth has heightened insect waste to an existentialist escape, suggesting that even the basest creatures are capable of yielding something spectacular.

Epicenter is like a millennial version of J.M.W Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed (National Gallery, London). What is visionary art if not transportive? While the title suggests the central point from which an earthquake originates, it just as easily reads as an abstraction of speed, a jetting flash across the sky. The streak that bisects the diptych and forms a horizon line looks as though it easily broke the sound barrier, tearing through black space in full speed, supersonic, red-hot light.

Hollis Taggart Galleries