Trans: Form | Color
Notes by Peter Selz:

Abstract painting has a history of about a hundred years. "Abstract" is really a misnomer, as the artist does not depart from the reality of the outside world, but creates his/her own visual presence. Terms such as non-figurative, non-objective or concrete are actually more descriptive. The ultimate source of this art is Plato's rejection of the world of appearance, which obscures fundamental essence. Kandinsky, in 1912, wrote his seminal treatise, Das Geistige in der Kunst, which is translated as The Spiritual in Art, but it should be noted that the German word "geistig" refers to the cognitive as well as the spiritual faculty. This conflation is what the early "abstract painters--Malevich, Kupka, Mondrian as well as Kandinskly--had in mind when they created art which not only liberated the artist from adherence to the object and from the heavy burden of tradition, but also expressed their hope for a more perfect future. These artists were imbued with a vision that their art would open a path toward spiritual edification.

By mid-century, the American Abstract Expressionists, affirming gestural action and intuition, were in tune with the contemporaneous Existentialist emphasis on voluntary action in face of the absurd. Opposing this trend, the color-field painters of the 1960s depersonalized abstract art and created cool painting in which emblematic forms and pure color sensations became dominant. In the late 1970s and early '80s Neo-Geo painters, informed by Conceptual and Process art, produced systemic painting, which was in line with the concern with Critical Theory at the time.

Working in the contemporary and more skeptical realm, the painters in the present group work with a more sober, a more judicious approach. Instead of rebelling against tradition, they now see themselves as beneficiaries of a long tradition of abstract art. In the present post-modernist, pluralist art world the act of painting finds itself on the defensive and abstraction in particular has become marginalized.

I am convinced, however, that the process of using brush and pigment will continue, be it figurative or abstract. I was very pleased, therefore, when asked by this loose association of painters to write about their work. These painters, calling themselves T R A N S, meeting in person or on the internet, found that they share a common interest in the painting process, pure, and often not so simple. Unlike previous groups, they share no common ideology and they certainly are not likely to publish a manifesto. And they all agree that it is the viewer's response, which completes the work. In this era of globalization, they are trans-Atlantic, and with the exception of Brent Hallard, who was born in Australia and lives in Tokyo, they reside and work in the San Francisco Bay Area or in Munich and its vicinity. Their first exhibition was held in 2007 at Weltraum, Munich, followed by a show at the Pharmaka Gallery in Los Angeles in the Spring of 2009, with the current show mounted at the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco.

Two of the painters, Robin McDonnell and Stephan Fritsch are engaged in a vigorous continuation --not a latter-day appropriation--of gestural painting. We see McDonnell's improvisational painting in which pigment is applied in rapid motion. Her canvases often suggest lush landscapes, while remaining in the realm of abstraction. Fritsch--the wild man of the group--who thrusts his colorful brush onto buildings as well as canvas, creates surprising effects, which at times suggest graffiti as well as a reappraisal of Action Painting.

Hallard produces two- or three-dimensional markers of objects, made of plastics, vinyl, aluminum painted tape or cut paper placed on the wall in various positions. He takes gallery walls as his canvas for his abstract geometric, which appear three-dimensional to the onlooker. Leonhard Hurzlmeier makes personal color ciphers on carefully prepared and highly textured surfaces, producing evocative abstract figurations.

Kasarian Dane, living in upstate New York and Richard Schur, residing in Munich, both investigate the still untold possibilities of geometric painting. Dane works with horizontal and vertical bars and uses high gloss enamel or matte vinyl pigments to paint on canvas or aluminum supports. Well aware of the limitations of works in color stripes, he engages with the difficult problems and solutions of this genre, he uses unexpected combinations and contrasts of vibrating hues.

Schur tells us that he copied Mondrian when he was fifteen. Then he discovered German Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism, but soon found his personal bearings in hard-edge painting. His work fuses intuition with systematic thinking, resulting in color rectangles in which areas of strong color and black planes and neutral grays in asymmetrical, dynamic balance.

Nancy White achieves an effect of kinetic energy on flat surfaces by floating color triangles on paper, which she had tinted with multiple washes. She also produces oil paintings on steel supports which, when hung on the wall, appear like folded paper. Her paintings, small in size, are large in scale.

Color and lines are the subjects of Mel Prest's paintings. For some time now she has used clusters of parallel lines, which criss-cross each other in equidistant order. Her perceptual investigations make us think of the optical puzzles by Bridget Riley or Victor Vasarely. Inspired by Lead Zeppelin lyrics, she produces paintings in gouache, ink or paper with multitudes of straight lines, which extend from the edge of the paper and meet in close networks of connections, which could be diagrams of entangled conjunctions.

John Zurier remarks that he grew up with art, and had a Diebenkorn drawing over his crib. Through the years he has made pared down monochrome paintings, which consist of many layers of oil paint to achieve color structures that depend on subtle brushstrokes, applied with great care and concentration. Monochrome abstractions have been produced ever since Malevich painted his White on White almost a century ago. But they all differ in light and space as well as color, brushstroke and texture, evoking different sense experience on the part of the spectator, whose perception completes the dialogue. And everyone of these painters agree on the proposition that Abstract Art has not come to a terminal point, that, in fact, it is still in an early phase.

Written to accompany the exhibition TRANS form | color at the Meridian Gallery, San Francisco, California, November 2009.
26 photos · 396 views