Barry Schwabsky’s Letter to Anna Leonhardt
To Anna Leonhardt
by Barry Schwabsky
Thank you for showing me your new paintings, Anna. What changes they led me through! I remember you telling me that movement in a painting is not cinematic; “it’s like a thread,” you told me, “it starts somewhere and then it goes somewhere.” That’s also what happened to my feelings about the paintings in the time I spent with them. It’s tempting to see them as composed of two superimposed zones. The first would be a dense layer of colors woven together with a palette knife to form a dense gray or sequence of grays—a rich alloy closer in resonance to the subdued lyricism of early Brice Marden (the “Grove Group” of 1972-76, for example) than to the neutral or generic implacability of Gerhard Richter’s gray paintings of the same era, but more enveloping than either. Your grayish fields, in a way that immediately distinguishes themselves from either of theirs, are like calm seas under variable sunlight and clouds, seas that are calm but nonetheless full of waves. Atop their tremulous surfaces sit those more or less horizontally or vertically oriented swipes of thick, multi-colored impasto, like torches raised up against a fog. So: should I say your work concerns the old, endlessly unsettled dichotomy of figure and ground? Yes, of course, but then again, not exactly, because I immediately feel that the color-matter of the “figures,” which often seem to map out a place that some as-yet absent form could possibly inhabit, is of the same substance as the ground on which it sits. That is, I have the impression that if these complex yet apparently casually inscribed marks, austere lights flaring up against the smoldering matter of the richly inflected surface, had upon first being added to the painting dissatisfied you in any way, you would without a second thought have taken up your palette knife and started weaving them back into the existing mixture—plowing it under as farmers sometimes do part of their crop to enrich the soil for the next crop: creating a new synthesis and preparing another receptive ground for a new array of assertive marks. How many layers of primary colors and whites do you plow under to enrich your fields? I don’t suppose the number counts. The painting isn’t finished until its finished, and it’s finished when you glimpse something you haven’t quite seen before. “I’m discovering all about color while I’m painting,” you told me, and I knew I was doing something similar by just being with the paintings, immersing myself in their glow, each one its own place with its own temperature and different inner rhythm to its movements. But I suspect I’ve got more to discover. I want to give more time to this art, where time spent seems without limit. I still have a lot to discover. For example: how is that those flamboyant swipes of matter and light hold so firmly to their places? I keep expecting to see them floating, shifting in relation to each other and the painting’s ground, but instead, they decisively assert themselves: here, and nowhere else, thus, and not otherwise. I accept their authority, without quite understanding how or why. They simply feel incontrovertible. And then when I feel that, I see that these marks are not really, as it seemed, on the space laid out by the ground, nor even in it: They make the space, they are the armature on which, after the fact, it forms itself. These paintings proclaim that figure and ground are immanent to each other, which means that despite all appearances, the space of the painting was nothing until the surface was further marked in such as way as to declare: Let there be space. And space there is, lit up for all to see, and it is good: a warm, beautiful, generous space to inhabit. Your paintings write their own creation myth.
Anna Leonhardt opens on Sunday, Jan 7th, 2018 and will be on view through Feb 9th 2018