I WEAR MY MOONGLASSES AT NOON
by Mark Sengbusch
Seeing painting through the lens of Printmaking.
Anna Schachte at Safe gallery. Didier William at TSA.
I live in New York City. I see a ton of art. Some good, some bad, and a lot in between. I go to a lot of openings, sometimes 2-3 times a week, sometimes 5-6 openings in one night! On a rare occasion I find something that stops me enough to think and then write about it. That happened on a Saturday last November. I started at Safe gallery in Bushwick off the Graham L train near Pumps, a local strip club we use as a landmark of the area. Safe gallery opened in 2015 and I have seen some great shows there including a knockFout solo show by Kari Cholnoky in Feb. 2017, and a crazy performance/séance led by Erin Lee Jones in 2016. On this November evening I walked in to see a two person show of works by Anna Schachte and Ryan Stedman. Schachte lives in LA. I had seen her a couple weeks prior there at an opening at HILDE gallery where I had some work up so always good to support back.
I walked up to Schachte’s paintings after getting a beer (they always get a keg!) and said hey to a few friends. The gallery is shaped like an “L” which lends itself to multiple reads-which her paintings do indeed... You hear people say that but what does it really mean? Well for me it started with a negative reaction. I thought to my self: The paint is too thin, the colors are possibly right out of the tube. The color combos are not too interesting, possibly because some of the same colors were used in multiple paintings. But after a while the “next read” slowly solidified. The shift in view was dependent on changing my glasses to view these works through the lens of printmaking and not painting. The two genres are closely related, both dependent upon layers.
I knew there was something going on that I just couldn’t put my finger on. Most of Schachte’s paintings look like old school wood block prints. Like a postcard from the 50’s. Like the cover of a book about travel from the 70’s. Or like a vintage mono print in Harpers Bazaar. Schachte’s thin layering of color fields or objects such as a table fan have a subtle depth of field that did not fit into my strict painters view. But of course there are great painters who use this technique. Sigmar Polke, Terry Winters, Heidi Howard and Jennifer Sullivan to name a few. After taking in Schachte’s paintings with my new glasses on for a good 15 minutes they started to make sense. Or at least I began to like them. They have a story and aren’t easy to look at. Not easy but definitely worth it. Just make sure you’re wearing the right glasses.
Ok on to the next one. Shows at 1329 Willoughby. A few stops on the L train and I arrive at the second largest gallery hub in Bushwick. The highest concentration is at 56 Bogart off Morgan L. 1329 Willoughby houses 4 galleries, TSA, Transmitter, King’s Leap and Microscope. Underdonk is next door North and Koenig and Clinton/Century Pictures South on Willoughby, all between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas.
TSA NY, acronym for TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID, gallery started in Philadelphia’s Chinatown in 2009, NYC in 2012, and also has locations in Chicago and LA. TSA NY is an artist run space with 9 members including Rachel Gorchov, Sun You and Vincent Como. I’ve been a fan of the gallery since the days in Philly. Out of the dozens of artist run galleries in Bushwick TSA NY has really solidified its mission statement - thoughtful (research based) installations, mixed media sculpture, text based work and an active flat file program. I guess what I’m saying is that they don’t have a mishmash of shows and artists. They actually research, curate and consider the work they show.
And Didier William’s show “We Will Win” was no exception. As with Schachte’s paintings these works have a subtlety and a nod to printmaking. William is originally from Haiti and has his MFA from Yale in Painting and, you guessed it, Printmaking. His mixed media paintings in We Will Win are Acrylic on panel and they all have an element of carving (or gouging) out to make a line, sometimes the outline of the figure itself. Dozens of eyes made with this technique cover the whole profile like fish scales. Some of the paintings also have collage elements of ink on paper. But I’m not really concerned or interested in the “parts” of the painting. The mixed media elements work together and do not over power the composition. Instead of distracting from the work these elements solidify the whole picture and, like Schachte, made me think of printmaking.
There is one piece in the show that is black and white and has real hand printed areas of leaves that look like hand printed wallpaper. This combined with the carved out fish scale eyes on an abstract figure in some ways looks most like a painting or a drawing but again this is a mixed media piece with a touch of printmaking and it shows. William uses this technique of carving into the panel to make a subtractive white line on a black painted wood surface. The printing block as final product. But even this read concerning the objecthood of a painting is secondary to the composition. The media is mixed with the subject matter and creates a platter for the composition to rest. But it took a while for all that to settle in my mind.
The TSA PR says, “The synthetic ploy of the stage is explored as both a theatrical principal as well as a pictorial motif, yet reductive readings are frustrated by actors that continually defer a set role or location.” Sounds about right. Bravo.
At the end of day these two artists made me think about my pre conceived notions of painting. Very easy to get tunnel vision as an artist/painter and a writer/critic. Feels good to get out of your usual mode of interpretation. I was able to open up to Schachte's and Williams' paintings by viewing them through the lens of printmaking.