“I am becoming more bullish on abstraction”

Hello painters,

You might have noticed recently that I enjoy finding a pull quote to use as the subject line of my newsletter. This one, hyping up abstract painting, comes from Larry Ossei-Mensah, an independent curator who was born in the Bronx but is constantly on the move.

I took notice of Ossei-Mensah’s stance on abstraction: he describes it as a field we don’t give enough attention to. While that’s definitely not the case around these parts, it definitely is the case that the preeminence of abstract painting is a thing found in history books rather than setting the tone for the present.

In this article I’ve linked to, Ossei-Mensah wants to spread the word about a fellow native to the Bronx, the painter Patrick Alston. Alston makes energetic abstractions, paintings covered in scribbles and scrawls and big fields of solid color.

“I can sit in front of one of his works for hours,” Ossei-Mensah says, “trying to register the marks, trying to get the sense of how he felt at the end of that day with that painting or that drawing.”

I appreciate Ossei-Mensah’s statement here about the way this type of abstract painting can feel so bodily and physical: part of the pleasure of looking involves reenacting the painting in your mind. Mentally recreating the energy of each stroke, working out how the colors intertwine and overlap — it brings the act of painting off the canvas and into the world.

Alston also makes good use of the way building up layers of oil paint and oil stick can look so gritty and textured. Even by viewing this piece shown below on a flat computer screen image, you can still get the sense of the overwhelming amount of texture in the middle of the canvas, which I feel like is an impressive feat.

You can add Patrick Alston’s work to an esteemed lineage of other black abstract artists such as Sam Gilliam, Raymond Saunders, Stanley Whitney, and Mark Bradford. All artists who share a love of the elemental aspects of painting like line, color, and rhythm, but who also work to comment on social and political themes.

One of the amazing things about painting is the ability you have to enter into a dialogue with artists from your present and your past. It’s like getting to choose your dream dinner guests, but instead of sitting around the table and chatting, all the action is happening on the canvas.

I could come up with a few other names that Patrick Alston’s work reminds me of — including NYC mainstay Jonathan Lasker — and I’m sure Alston has a list of artist inspirations longer than a CVS receipt. Part of the trouble is — metaphorically speaking — figuring out which artists you want to spend an evening casually chatting with in the studio versus the ones you want to have a long heart to heart with until the sun comes up.

Paintings links and news

Jackson Pollock’s Older Brother Charles Was the Family’s First Artist. Now, an Exhibition Brings Their Work Together for the First Time via Artnet

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While I included a song by him in last week’s newsletter, I’m still really enjoying the piano jazz of Steve Kuhn. You can find him easily on Spotify and other streaming services but here are some YouTube links as well:

Steve Kuhn album from 1971
Steve Kuhn - I Loves You Porgy
Steve Kuhn - Lotus Blossom
Steve Kuhn - Childhood is Forever album

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

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