In the galleries: In two exhibitions, three painters put aside their brushes By: Mark Jenkins November 9
The impromptu brushstroke was so emblematic of abstract expressionism that pop artist Roy Lichtenstein parodied it for decades. But some mid-20th-century abstraction shunned brushes altogether in favor of pouring, dripping and spattering. That such techniques are still fruitful is confirmed by the work of three artists, Greg Minah, Nicole Gunning and Shar Coulson, at two shows a block apart.
Cross MacKenzie Gallery’s “New Material” reflects how Minah and Gunning add water and clay, respectively, to the mix. Minah pours pigment and, while it’s still liquid, spins the canvas to cause gestures that flow and crisscross each other. Sometimes he sprays the surface with water or air, partly removing the paint but leaving ghostly outlines where the edges of the rivulets have dried. These can stand alone or serve as bones to be overpainted with layers of multicolored skin.
Nicole Gunning’s “Kelp Forest.” (Nicole Gunning/Cross Mackenzie Gallery)
The Baltimore artist has undertaken several variations on this strategy. Some of the resulting pictures are pastel and chalky, and others are brighter and more opaque. The most recent work features textures that appear feathery, as though the intricate overlaps were still fluttering. Minah freezes streams of paint, but the sense of motion remains.
Primarily a ceramist, Gunning has previously shown her terra-cotta nude self-portraits. Currently without access to a kiln, the D.C. artist has turned to splashing colored bentonite on canvas. The 3-D clay affixes in patterns that resemble coral reefs, lichen-covered rocks or, as one title has it, a “Kelp Forest.” Although a single-color undercoat holds the entirety together, the colors and clumps are strikingly unpredictable.
The mixed-media paintings of Shar Coulson, whose “Perception vs. Reality” is at Artist’s Proof, are somewhat more traditional. The Chicago artist’s work begins as abstract but comes to include hints of nature and landscape imagery. (Her current series is titled “Fauna Flora Figure.”) Some brushwork is evident amid the strata of wax and acrylic paint, as are lines drawn in charcoal.
Yet Coulson uses tactics akin to Minah’s. She regularly rotates the canvas so as to approach the composition from fresh perspectives. Also, she abrades pigment she has applied, both to yield weathered textures and to open areas for new forays. The completed pictures feel delicate yet physical, combining muted hues and robust gestures. Coulson’s homages to flora and fauna are just as much celebrations of the act of painting.
Greg Minah and Nicole Gunning: New Material Through Nov. 14 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW.