“Painting is classic. It’s my job and devotion to continue developing the tradition.
Painting keeps going… It’s all evolving.”
Tom Lieber’s second solo exhibition at Robischon Gallery, “Mūlas (Nakshatra),” focuses on the artist’s exploration of balance and contradiction. Lieber’s paintings reveal a sense of architecture - built with an earth-referencing color palette in service to the layered array of his potent, fast-moving gestural marks. Lieber carries forth traditions within modern and contemporary abstraction while creating a language all his own; a vocabulary that employs swift and dramatic brushwork, drips and varied line, as well as symbol and structure that defines the center of his recognizable, signature compositions. Lieber harnesses the impact of heroic scale, physical movements and his medium to allow for an engagement with the body while manifesting energy’s mark.
Lieber’s process begins with scale: a canvas must be large enough to handle his sweep of gesture with room enough for the artist to explore space and ground. Using a ladder, he plays with proximity to the canvas to engage the periphery of his eye so he can, as he says, “become more detached from the painting.” He builds up passages of color by balancing the “temperature” of the canvas – cool colors atop warm colors and back again, employing a squeegee when the pigment becomes too hot and adding more to the surface when the palette becomes too cold. Even with using light and dark azure blue, crimson red, yellow ochre and black and white, Lieber maintains a measured neutrality in his work. Colors often occur along the perimeter with thick daubs of pigment and quick strokes of paint, all of which are triggered by adjustments from the center. Color should not, according to the artist, be “romantic…or interpretive;” it should not, he says, “look like anything recognizable.”
Lieber invokes his signature black gestural mark toward the end of the layered painting process, when the composition seems balanced and the underlying structure fully-formed. Sometimes rough and bold, sometimes graceful and calligraphic, the final stage and form of the ebony mark often resembles a V shape. For the artist, the V element represents the grounded anchor of life as well as a symbol representative of the body. For the title of his Robischon Gallery exhibition, “Mūlas (Nakshatra),” mūla is, in Sanskrit, the root of every human being, the source of power for yogis and martial artists and suggests the way to tap into both compassion and creativity. For Lieber this suggests the existence of a larger, essential source that requires focus and conscious effort to engage – a way of being in the world that may often go untapped in contemporary American culture. It is this focused awareness and Lieber’s view of an authentic shared connection which holds the artist’s primary devotion. Through the vehicle of abstraction, Lieber is able to contemplate and communicate his central truths. This foundation prompts Lieber’s compositions to be both intuitive and controlled, maintaining an aliveness within the arena. His investigation into balance allows for the artist’s V configuration to emerge as an element which contradicts itself in the space. In Lieber’s formations, the line is never located in only positive space, but rather it stands anchored underneath the surface and comes to the foreground in varying ways according to what the painting requires.
With layers of pigment, Tom Lieber creates a richness of color and surface, as well as offering an understanding of the spatial arena. “I stand back,” the artist says, “and then, follow what’s needed. I follow the painting.” In this way, Lieber deftly manages a varied gestural expression within distinctive visual language and conveys that a sensitively made painting can never be made twice.
Tom Lieber has both an M.F.A. and B.F.A, from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. A National Endowment of the Arts award recipient, his paintings can be found in the permanent collections of major institutions such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Tate Gallery, London; Bowdoin College Museum, Brunswick, ME; Cleveland Museum of Art; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Stanford University Museum of Art, Palo Alto; Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art, South Hadley, MA; The Oakland Museum of California; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME; David Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Washington University Gallery of Fine Arts, St. Louis; Krannert Art Museum at University of Illinois; Huntington Gallery at University of Texas, Austin; Ringling Museum, Sarasota; Newport Museum of Art, Newport, RI; Santa Fe Museum of Art; Tucson Museum of Art; Cedar Sinai Collection, Los Angeles; and the Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs. He has been included in group exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Farnsworth Museum; Tate Gallery, London; Visual Arts Center of Alaska; Newport Art Museum; Bolinas Museum; Honolulu Contemporary Museum; Palm Springs Desert Museum; Vermont Studio Center; Fleming Museum; San Jose Museum of Art; Tucson Museum of Art, among many others.