BART EXPOSITO review in The Kansas City Star
Bart Exposito, one of three abstract painters currently on view in the exhibition "Ecstatic Structure" at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park Kansas, is featured in an illustrated review in The Kansas City Star.
Artists bring line, color and abstraction to exhibit at Nerman Museum
By ALICE THORSON
The Kansas City Star
October 17, 2010: G1, G2 (illustrated).
Vibrant colors, pulsing forms and dizzying patterns make the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Ecstatic Structure” show a retinal workout.
And with its references to Op, Color Field painting and 1960s geometric abstraction, this exhibit of new works by New Yorkers Stanley Whitney and Warren Isensee and LA-based Bart Exposito also offers a trip down abstraction’s memory lane.
Bucking the narrative bent of many current shows around town, “Ecstatic Structure” reiterates Nerman director Bruce Hartman’s commitment to showcasing contemporary abstraction.
And it contains some terrific paintings.
The exhibit marks a triumphant homecoming of sorts for Whitney, a veteran painter and Kansas City Art Institute alum, whose gallery of colorful gridded abstractions has a palpable intensity. A single work by Whitney was a highlight of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s 2008 “Sparks” show of William T. Kemper acquisitions. The five large paintings here offer an opportunity to revel in his aesthetic.
Their presence is so filled with life, it’s almost as if they have a heartbeat.
Although Whitney employs the emblematic modernist motif of the grid, he endows it with motion and obstreperousness. His compositions of color blocks reject the tyranny of straight lines, clean edges and uniform size. Yes, he lines up his vividly colored blocks in rows, but he’s likely to pop in a rectangle amid the squares and further disrupt things by adding contrasting bands of color reminiscent of African strip weaving between the rows.
Whitney overpaints, using multidirectional brushwork that animates his surfaces and endows his blocks with competing personalities. And he invites gravity into the picture, placing smushed-looking rows of blocks, seemingly weighted down by the composition above, along the bottoms of these canvases.
One thing that makes his paintings so engaging is the way Whitney makes his decisions visible. We follow him through flurries of overpainting, incomplete additions and unself-conscious drips that record his changes of mind. The artist describes his working method as one of call and response.
“I start at the top and work down,” he said in a 2008 interview with art critic John Yau. “That gets into call-and-response. One color calls for another. Color dictates the structure, not the other way around.”
Whitney, a native of Philadelphia, trained at KCAI from 1966 to ’68 and then moved to New York. In 1972 he earned his master of fine arts from Yale. But his breakthrough moment as a painter occurred in the mid-1990s during a trip to Egypt, where he discovered “density” and “realized I could stack all the colors together and not move the air.”
Other important influences include African textiles, Color Field painting and music.
“Music in the African-American community is what saves people,” he told Yau. “I grew up and music was everything. That’s a big part of my painting.”
As a young man who was committed to being an abstract painter, Whitney struggled with expectations that he respond to the call to race. He also has had to deal with the art world’s lack of knowledge about African-American abstract artists.
But these concerns clearly don’t follow him into the studio, where he glories in the tactility and liquidity of paint and induces us to do the same. The works are marvelous.
Warren Isensee’s mesmerizing maze-like update of the 1960s stripe painting offers a different thrill. The artist draws on his undergraduate studies in architecture, a post-college stint as a house painter and experience making charts, maps and illustrations for USA Today.
Isensee’s stripes often turn into rectangles or long boxes for more stripes. “Bipolar Express” (2007), one of the earliest works in the show, presents two stacked rectangles containing concentric bands of varying widths and colors. “Halo Effect” (2009) re-enacts Josef Albers’ “Homage to the Square” with an Op twist, presenting concentric squares of color surrounded by vibrating black-and-white stripes.
As their colors advance and recede, other works contain hints of masks or tunnels and give a sense that there is something hidden within these patterned expanses.
A great strength of Isensee’s work is his singular eye for color.
“It can take hours to mix the particular yellow I need to light up the adjacent orange. I use black as a form of punctuation to emphasize and define the luminosity of color, while white is used both as positive and negative space,” he explains in his artist statement.
Isensee’s palette extends to “decorator” hues like coral and light blue. Their inclusion makes for some riveting combinations.
Hartman got hooked on Isensee’s work when he bought a small colored pencil drawing for the permanent collection. He brings us up to date with this show by including two wall-spanning, multicanvas installations that treat the gallery wall as a “metacanvas.” In “Crystal Math,” Isensee tilted six narrow 10-foot-tall paintings to create a zigzag pattern that heightens the rhythms of the individual components. “Cakewalk” features a collection of narrow, striped canvases of varying size arranged to mimic a jaunty walk.
Without sacrificing the hand-painted allure that is a key part of Isensee’s aesthetic — he doesn’t use tape to guide his brush — the large wall arrangements take the work to a new, environmental level with multiple possibilities.
A little bit Pop, a little bit Color Field, Bart Exposito’s graphic and enigmatic paintings exert a troublesome familiarity.
The exhibit features works from his “Bends” series of large canvases dominated by a wavy black line edged in gray that, in most cases, vertically divides the picture plane.
Where the line dips, it sprouts a collection of futuristic shapes that evoke architecture and plants, often positioned sideways, in defiance of gravity. They appear against both solid gray and two-toned backdrops that pair gray with an expanse of color.
Featuring a twisting band of yellow on a gray ground, “Bends (Yellow)” evokes comic-book style DNA strands or an ikebana arrangement. “Bends (Red),” titled for its predominantly red backdrop, suggests a view through a periscope. A hint of Wayne Thiebaud’s vertiginous Cityscapes runs throughout this body of work.
All of these compositions read as enlarged details of something bigger that remains stubbornly out of reach — decals, aerial maps, decorative schemes. A streaky paint application in the background of “Bends (Red)” and “Bends (Blue)” contributes an otherwordly feel that complicates any attempt to pin these compositions down.
Happily, the power here is in the puzzle. It may just be a matter of waiting for life to catch up to these paintings, and then it will all make sense.
ON EXHIBIT The show: “Ecstatic Structure: Bart Exposito, Warren Isensee, Stanley Whitney”
Where: Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park; 913-469-3000, www.nermanmuseum.org.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. The exhibit continues through Dec. 19.
How much: Free.
The full text of the review, and images, can be found at <www.kansascity.com/2010/10/16/2315336/uniformity-bo-gone.html>.