Hallwalls is pleased to open its 2016 fall season with a dynamic exhibition of text-based paintings by Amy Greenan, Eric Magnuson, Brad Phillips, and Betty Tompkins.
Text has a long and storied history in art and has played a fulsome part of modern and contemporary art movements, where language has been occasionally deconstructed, broken into its formal/visual elements, and treated alternately and simultaneously as painterly and poetic gestures. Over time, we are made persistently aware that language and its constructs are a fluid mechanism, within which meanings change, evaporate, or re-emerge in new, unanticipated ways. Formal language subsides to be overcome by vernacular and vernacular is persistently altering itself, in both form and meaning.
The explorations of painted language in this exhibition cross shared territory at times, but each artist is dealing with text in their work in their own specific and iconoclastic ways. Amy Greenan may appear the most formalist, as she often obscures easy recognition of the words used in favor of painterly gestures. Like her concurrent painting work centered around the form of houses, Greenan treats the limbs of fonts as structural elements within the painting, forms that both enhance and blend her color choices.
Eric Magnuson also relies on text in a specific painterly fashion, but in a tighter presentation, though Magnuson often likes to play with optical tricks or reversed text to obscure easy recognition of meaning. Of late, Magnuson has taken less to taping sections of painting and has begun to rely more on his painterly hand. They remain precisely-rendered, but exhibit more looseness to his treatment. Magnuson's selected texts often tend toward familiar vernacular terms, recontextualized through gestures of simple visual trickery or on specific canvas forms that allude to a broader language of physical signage.
Brad Phillips, perhaps loosest of all the painters in the exhibition, evokes the sensibility of an experienced sign painter who has done this a thousand times and looks toward a deviation of content to lend the works their distinction. Their simple rendering suggests they are aware of their overt and obvious (albeit, always clever) puns on familiar phrases. But those delicate lines also lend a fragility and tenderness to the message, even when its content may be more aggressive and even confrontational.
The hundreds of small works included by Betty Tompkins are from her ongoing Woman Words series, in which an email message from the artist helped build a vocabulary stockpile, from which she proceeded to paint images of women comprised of words. What is immediately apparent and evokes the most immediate response is the almost preposterous quantity of words such a project elicited. From sublime to poetic to profane to exalted, it is a dizzying array so fulsome that one might initially be reading more than seeing, thus failing to immediately recognize the varied painterly grounds upon which the artist has situated these words. Sometimes stark and minimal, sometimes colorful and lively, they collectively create an immense collage of meaning and visual splendor.