Peter Blake Gallery is pleased to present “Scot Heywood: Shift ǀ Stack ǀ Sunyata,” an exhibition of recent paintings, the artist’s sixth solo at the gallery.
Broadway Boogie-Woogie, Piet Mondrian’s penultimate painting, expresses the rhythmic pulse of movement on the streets of New York City – the city to which he emigrated from Europe during the Second World War – using only geometric shape and color; red, yellow, blue, and grey rectangles interspersed among a yellow grid on a white ground. Conjuring movement from simple oblongs is no easy feat. Scot Heywood achieves it in every painting.
In a 2013 interview with the gallerist Frank Lloyd, Heywood describes the evolution of his painting style by saying, “The big thing was I bumped into Mondrian, you know, somewhere in maybe 1977, ’78 and that changed everything.” While the connection between the works of Mondrian and Heywood may not be readily apparent, the genesis of Heywood’s mature style – his eureka moment – came while laying out monochromatic panels on the floor in a Mondrian-like grid. Unlike Mondrian’s painted grid lines, the physical divisions of the panels formed a grid without the drawn line. The offset panel alignment sparked an epiphany when, in the artists’ words, he “slipped” one of the panels. This seemingly simple act fractured the rectangular field and created tension brought about by a visual representation of gravity’s pull.
The format of Heywood’s paintings, two or three panels held in stasis while one or two others slip outside rectangular boundaries, generates a tensile equilibrium producing perceptual movement, like the strong yet graceful gestures of T’ai chi ch’uan, the Chinese martial art. T’ai chi movements resist force by yielding to and redirecting it. Looking at a Scot Heywood painting induces a similar contradiction, a feeling of dynamic tranquility.
The painting Sunyata – Yellow, White, Black, Canvas is a prime example of this phenomenon. Two equally sized canvases, one yellow and one white, counterbalance the right and left sides of the painting. Tensely held between these two large planes are two thin rectangular canvases, one black and the other gray. The black panel slips below the edge of the painting, a force redirected. The “slipped” panel engenders a sense that any moment it may slide back up into place. Then again, it might slide above the painting’s top edge. The viewer’s mind pushes and pulls the errant plane back into line. This cognitive movement – push/pull/push, tension/release/tension – is the energy within every Scot Heywood painting.
Geometric abstraction, the art historical precedent to Heywood’s paintings, has a storied history in Los Angeles, the city where Heywood was born in 1951 and still resides. Beginning in the late 1940’s a number of Los Angeles-based artists pursued non-representational painting employing geometric form. Four of these artists – Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, and John McLaughlin – gained prominence when they were featured in the 1959 exhibition Four Abstract Classicists at the Los Angeles Museum of Art (now the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and the San Francisco Museum of Art (now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).
Three of the four Abstract Classicists, McLaughlin excluded, began painting in a representational style and then gradually developed abstract methods. Heywood, like McLaughlin, never abstracted from nature, but rather arrived directly at non-representational painting. Another similarity between the paintings of McLaughlin and Heywood is the evidence of the artist’s hand. McLaughlin’s pencil drawn outlines and small paint strokes are apparent upon close inspection. Heywood varies the surface texture of his paintings by employing different brush strokes – crosshatch, diagonal, vertical, or horizontal – on alternate panels within one painting. The surface texture is also sometimes differentiated by making the “slipped” panel wood and the static panel canvas. These differences subtly energize the surface and enhance the movement within.
Scot Heywood’s paintings are never static. By yielding to force and redirecting it, dynamic energy and lyrical movement pulses within them.