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🆕 What's New in American Painting? 🆕

Hey painters,

I recently picked up a copy of the latest New American Paintings, a colorful glossy magazine that publishes recent artworks from around the country. Five issues come out every year which focus on a different slice of America (Pacific Coast, West, Midwest, South, Northeast), plus a sixth that focuses on recent MFA student work.

New American Paintings is published in Boston by Steven Zevitas who operates a gallery by the same name in the South End. Ask a group of artists what they think about the publication and you might get a wide range of responses, ranging from “it’s a great survey of what’s cool and trendy in painting today” to “I’ve been rejected four times and I don’t think I will ever recover”.

This in depth article by Cara Ober (from 2013), which includes quotes from Zevitas and from many of the artists featured over the years, does a good job of summing up both the interest and the anguish caused by the magazine. Artists whose works are published often report an uptick in attention, sales, and gallery representation, although some report life continuing on much the same after their feature.

Disruption, 36 x 36 inches, mixed media on board
Phoenix S. Brown

This recent issue centers on the Midwest. Zevitas writes in his forward that previous installments of this issue saw more than half of the 40 artists featured living in and around Chicago, but this latest issue has found artists thriving in spots like Cleveland, Minneapolis, and St. Louis.

The artists of New American Painting are typically selected by a guest juror, and this time it is Henriette Huldisch, the former director of the MIT List Arts Center who now acts as the Chief Curator of the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.

The types of painting featured in this edition contain a great variety of subject matter, medium, and approach. These works span from photo-realistic oil painting, to the kind of cartoonish figurative painting that has been in vogue for some time, to abstractions with mixed media, to conceptual works that may not involve any paint at all (these pieces imply a “painterliness” that is dependent on the juror’s judgment).

Black + Tall = Basketball, 36 x 36 inches, mixed media on board
Phoenix S. Brown

In total, I counted 16 artists out of 40 who are working abstractly. This is a pretty good percentage, since I know several people on social media who are in a consistent state of agitation over a decline in interest in abstract art demonstrated by today’s youth and by the arts establishment writ large.

As far as “moral panics affecting America’s children” go this one is kind of a funny one to fret about in the grand scheme of things but given the amount of attention paid to figurative work in recent years, it’s nice to see some balance between content and approaches.

That said, I’ve looked through the assortment of abstract artists featured in this issue and I’m going to pick out some of my favorites to show to you today.

Sets of 4, 9 x 12 inches, colored pencil on paper
Phoenix S. Brown

The first artist that caught my eye was Phoenix Brown, who studied art history and painting in Milwaukee. I was drawn to the bold, thick lines of paint that have such a presence I felt like you could grab onto them.

That feeling is also accentuated by the hands and feet that sometimes filter their way up through the layers of paint, reaching out to you the viewer. Sometimes those hands and limbs are in conflict with themselves or with each other, twisting, flailing, and circling back around in the composition.

Not featured in the magazine but one that I found on Brown’s website was this colored pencil piece, which contains all of the action and energy of her larger painted pieces but on a smaller scale. I’m drawn into the vibrancy of the brighter colors, and the contrast created as they emerge from fields of black and blue.

float (how it feels to) #8, resin, pigment, acrylic on canvas, 7 x 5 inches
Lorri Ott

Lori Ott studied at Kent State and is currently on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Art. She has featured a series of small canvases entitled float, in a range of very glossy reds and pinks. Every canvas in this series contains one or two strong swipes of paint, and suspended within those swipes are streaks of pink and white and purple.

Ott’s series of small, intimate studies brought to mind these works by Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on pink ground) from 1964. They share pink backgrounds, and the gestures on Ott’s canvases evoke the strokes that Bacon used to create these psychological portraits of his lover.

float (how it feels to) #8, resin, pigment, acrylic on canvas, 7 x 5 inches
Lorri Ott

The reflective nature of the painting’s surface almost becomes a part of the composition. Patches of light get caught in the photograph, a strip of white ceiling lighting runs along the top of each canvas, giving the compositions a kind of standard gesture across each of the pieces.

float, resin, pigment, acrylic on canvas, 7 x 5 inches
Lorri Ott

Moving on from the quiet, emotive paintings of Lori Ott to the structural, rectilinear pieces of Armin Muhsam. Born in Romania and now living in Kansas City, Muhsam was a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Artist in 2014 and received a grant for his work.

Formalist Interiority, 2019, Oil on canvas, 14 x 18 inches
Armin Muhsam

Muhsam paints spaces with dimension, some of which open out toward the viewer, inviting them to step into a room or location that they could inhabit and move around inside of according to perspectival logic. However, these spaces are often filled with harder to comprehend abstract objects and materials.

Substantive Discrepancies, 2018, Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches
Armin Muhsam

Muhsam deconstructs structures, presents us painted versions of sculptures that would be difficult to build in three dimensions. The artist writes that he is searching for a “more abstract way to visualize the confrontation between human geometry and nature.”

Reductive Enactment, 2019, Oil on canvas, 10 x 20 inches
Armin Muhsam

Muhsam builds spaces like an architect (albeit one who wants to frustrate the general contractor tasked with the actual construction) and populates those spaces like a sculptor. His people-less spaces evoke the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, which is to me a welcome return of the kind of Metaphysical Painting that the Italian artist left behind in the early 1900s.

The final artist I want to share with you is the Iowa City based artist, Suzanne Wright. Somewhat similar to Muhsam in regards to the architectural foundations for her work, Wright is searching for metaphors for living within her geometric compositions.

Dance Floor Mandala, Paint on linen, 36 x 48 inches
Suzanne Wright

When I flipped the page to Wright’s work (I’m going to be honest with you) I actually said “Here we go” out loud. The lines are so sharp, the gradients are so attractive, it has everything that I love to see in this type of painting. The craftsmanship is obviously very high, even from a relatively small reproduction of a very large painting.

Detail of Dance Floor Mandala, Paint on linen, 36 x 48 inches
Suzanne Wright

Wright’s work is technically very precise and clean looking, but the content of her works hints at the mystical. Her most recent series of paintings look like maps and floor plans. One piece uses the Pentagon as a reference, another uses the layout of the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Pentagon Portal, Paint on linen, 36 x 36 inches
Suzanne Wright

Wright’s paintings feel like they were the result of a very long process of combing through sources and then shaking them all up in a blender. The technology and statecraft inherent in the Pentagon and centers of political power, combined with the symbolism and spirituality of the mandala, plus the momentary transcendence which is attainable on the dance floor.

All of this wrapped up in pastel Easter colors makes for a complex system of signs that can leave the viewer admiring the technicality of it while they’re pondering the meaning of it all.

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Our art gallery project, Goodluckhavefun, just had its final show before we go on a summer hiatus. We will be back with some more programming in the fall, but you can still appreciate the works of our last artist, Matthew Langland, on his website.

Got a handful of Dream Pop tunes for you this week:

Heavenly Best — Patience
The Bilinda Butchers — Hai Bby
Soda Shop — Fence
Ruby Haunt — Whatever

That’s all for this week folks. See you next time, and happy painting
(° ͜ʖ͡°)

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