Chosen for THERESPONSIVEI.COM by Eva Zanardi
DAVID R. PRENTICE: Veils, Clouds and Stardust
October 14th – November 13th, 2016
GR gallery, 255 Bowery, New York, NY 10002
Visitor Information: Tue-Sat 12:00pm – 7:00pm
GR gallery is proud to announce a solo exhibition of the American artist David R. Prentice, featuring 25 of his Minimalist abstract paintings from the past 5 years. On view will be paintings from his “Veils”, “Clouds”, and “Stardust” series with one painting from his earliest Minimalist career in the 60s. In addition to this, Prentice will be unveiling his latest series “Out Of The Blue,” inspired by his late wife. This exhibition focuses on the artist’s expert and subtle use of color in his paintings.
Curated by GR gallery’s director Alberto Pasini and Lanny Powers,the exhibition’s fully illustrated catalogue presents an essay by Lanny Powers.
Beginning in 1964, David R. Prentice started out his career with abstract Minimalist paintings that “operated on the edge of perception.” The “White Series” from the 60s were his first artistic output at the time. Switching gears, the artist dove into realistic landscape paintings in the 80s. After a long and successful career with landscapes, he has revisited the Minimalist ideas with the colorful yet subtly moving pieces on view at GR gallery. These most recent works of his draw the viewer in to contemplate how the colors move and blend seamlessly creating a dreamlike composition. The use of fundamental colors pushed down to their palest tone makes the paintings appear to change hues in different lights, making Prentice’s paintings feel mysterious and iridescent. David R. Prentice’s return to abstract Minimalism offers a meditative experience with his engaging manifestation of veils, clouds and stardust.
To find out more about the D.R. Prentice, please find an exclusive interview by Evelyn Wang for The Responsive I at the bottom of the page:
Operating At The Edge Of Perception with David R. Prentice
by Evelyn Wang
“It’s one of my favorite past times, to just sit down and have a nice conversation.” This is one of the first things American artist David R. Prentice mentions to me right before our interview. Throughout our conversation his easy going, talkative nature shines through, making me imagine up moments about strangers who have had the pleasure to talk to him and maybe hear his thoughts on making art and his creative process like I did. Sitting at our gallery desk, David tells me about his journey through very different art styles, how abstract and representational art really share a common point, and even indulges an eager art student’s curiosities about being an artist. Working in an art gallery, I’m often exposed to artists of great talent. However, after talking to David about his art for a while, I saw a genuine person with true dedication to the creative process and to making art. In just 20 minutes, the usual intimidation I feel talking to such accomplished artists melted away and in its place was just what he said before- a nice conversation.
Like his earliest Minimalist work, the Veils, Clouds, and Stardust series “operate at the edge of perception.” His expert use of color creates subtle yet engaging images. They catch the eye and keep you there, contemplating the artwork’s dreamlike and subtle nature, taking you on a meditative journey. In his words, David pinpoints what the job of an artist is- creating art that is “an adjunct to healing;” truly compelling words to a beginner artist like myself.
EW: Let’s talk about your background and experience in different styles of art. For example, you are most known for your landscape paintings. What inspired you to experiment with this type of abstract art?
DRP: After I left art school and came to New York, I was very interested in being part of the avant garde scene and at that time, what was really going on in the deepest way was minimalist painting. And I just felt like a duck discovering a pond, I was in my own water and I loved it and I was so comfortable with that. I made some white paintings that faded and blended and changed colors but very subtly. They operated at the edge of perception. At first look, you’d think that it was just a white panel but it isn’t a white panel. It’s many many colors interacting but very very quietly, very subtly. It was critically well received but economically…Ileana Sonnabend was my dealer at the time and she had a difficult time selling them because they were too subtle. Unfortunately, being subtle in America is a crime. You can do it in Europe, you can do it in Asia, but you can’t do it in America. So it went for a few years of working this way. Eventually it had to come to an end because she couldn’t sell much. So naturally I thought, well I better just move on. So I kind of abandoned the project and started to think up other things to do. For a few years I worked on body prints. I had models that I would put paint on their body and touch them to the canvas in different poses and then dress them in pattern making tissue and fabric. I had a big series that I did of that. At a certain point, that led me to sort of get more realistic. Because the figure was there. Eventually, it moved me into the beginnings of being representational. What happens, I guess is, that at a certain point, you run out of energy or you feel like you’ve said what you have to say about a certain thing. I reevaluated what I wanted to do and I decided that I always really loved landscapes so I thought, “Let me try painting that way, see how it feels, see what’s like.” And of course it’s a completely different discipline than anything I had been doing. I painted realism when I was a kid and in art school. But I hadn’t done it for a long time. It became clear to me very quickly that I had no idea what I was doing. The first couple of paintings were god awful, thank goodness I destroyed them. They were terrible! But they taught me what not to do. And sometimes that experience of making a huge mess teaches you what you have to do next and where you have to go. It was valuable in that way. So I started doing landscapes. Just shortly after that, I had the good fortune of meeting my wife-to-be, a wonderful Japanese women. We started spending a lot of time in Japan. For 30 years, I stayed in Japan almost exclusively painting landscapes. But all things come to an end. Two or three years ago, I started thinking about the white paintings that I had sort of abandoned back then.
EW: Why did you start thinking about them?
DRP: Well I had sort of been thinking about them all along. But always just pushing it away. Finally, I thought, “You know, there’s something bothering you about this. It’s unfinished business.” I didn’t really understand until I really thought about it for a while, and I realized that I was hurt by the failure of it, somehow. It bothered me. I wanted to kind of go after it again and see what I could do. This time I decided to turn the volume up a little bit so that it’s visibly available to people. I wanted to make it so that it wasn’t quite so hard to see. But the same kind of principles are being employed. You have to look hard, you have to be patient, and you have to be ready to just wait and look a little bit.
EW: But those principles don’t quite apply to your landscape paintings.
DRP: They do very much. The technique is very different, the discipline is very different, the approach is very different, but the end result is exactly the same. They take you to a place of contemplation which is where I want to be. Every kind of work that I’ve ever done, pretty much, urges you to have a contemplative experience. These things draw you into quiet meditation. The landscapes are meditations on nature. And obviously they pull you into a landscape like a window does but the difference between that and this (pointing to one of the Cloud series) is that this is a two-dimensional surface and is meant to be two-dimensional. The landscapes are an illusion. This is an allusion. But like I say, what happens at the end of the day is that they both end up being contemplative, kind of a meditation. Not that I think people will look at my paintings and be healed of all the things wrong with them. That’s silly. But I think that art at its best and what I’m trying to do is kind of an adjunct to healing. Art heals people like how music heals people. When we’re sad or tired or lonely or whatever, we turn to music we like. So painting should nourish you in the same way, it should make you feel better. And in that sense, it is an adjunct to healing. It helps you get over your traumas, your sadnesses, etc. It helps you have a richer life. And that’s the job. That’s what an artist is supposed to do.
EW: To me, your abstract pieces actually feel like abstract landscapes so that brings a great relationship between the two very different styles.
DRP: In a way, all paintings come from lived experience. The landscapes are more obvious. “What a beautiful sunset, I’ll paint that.” It’s a shared human experience. But abstraction does that also. Because lived experiences are quiet little moments like this, little subtle colors, little reflections from things, little moments in the day that are there subtly like the flavor of something, the odor of something. All kinds of things that affect us.
EW: Could you tell more about the titles of your pieces, like the Veil series? Did you have the titles in mind while creating the art works? What does Veil mean to you?
DRP: I didn’t start with thinking, “I’m gonna paint pictures about veils.” That’s not how that happened. I made some preliminary pictures, a couple of which were flops, a couple which showed me, “Okay, this is possible to do.” So when I finally got on track, which is when the veil series really got started and then I knew where I was going. I guess I had done the first one or two perhaps out of the seven that are the veils. I was looking at them and it reminded me of a beautiful woman looking at you over a veil, in the way that you would see the eyes or only a piece of her face and the rest was obscured by an attractive fan or veil or something like that. I thought “veil” was a good idea and I just went with it.
EW: I notice that a specific and consistent color palette in this series of paintings.The blending and combinations create fascinating color illusions. Can you tell me more about this? Were you drawn to these colors for any reason?
DRP: Well, they’re basic colors. Like for example local colors, with local colors you can see the difference between like four different violets or four different blues, very readily, it’s very clear what the difference is. When you get this pale, the differences get a little harder to discern. It sort of looks blue, but there’s also some greens that when they get this pale, they look a little bit blue also. Because green is made of blue, partly. So I try to stay with the fundamental colors, the cyans, the magentas, yellows. There’s a few things that I throw in to dirty it up or make it glow or whatever. Basically, this is all just going to be about rudimentary color, pushed down to its real basic, the quietest, and the palest.
EW: Tell us about some of your new work right now, like the “Stardust” series.
DRP: Well, it starts with trying to make a painting in remembrance of my wife. And I tried four or five times to make a painting about it. Everything that happened came out angry and sad and dark. That’s valid because that’s what I was feeling, but it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to make a painting for her/about her that wasn’t upbeat and full of light. So, I struggled with this painting for a while. I kept painting the canvas out and starting over. So there’s a lot of paint on this canvas. Eventually, I did a piece called Out Of The Blue. It’s much brighter than any of these and it’s rising somehow.
EW: Given that GR gallery specializes in Op and Kinetic art, what are your thoughts on that movement and genre? Do you have any favorite artists from the movement?
DRP: One of the jobs I had as a youngster in New York was working as the gallery slave for a gallery called the Howard Weiss Gallery on 52nd Street. They showed a lot of European stuff, they showed the Zero Group. Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, Gunther Uecker. So I got to meet all those guys. Their work was very different from my interests. Right around that time is when I started the first pale paintings. My work was very minimalist and their work was very conceptual. I became aware of that thinking, way back in the 60s. Bridget Riley is someone that I made the acquaintance of and I had a number of conversations with over the years. When I worked as the studio assistant to Jasper Johns, she visited the studio in South Carolina. We talked about things like her commission to copy a piece that she had given away already. So she made another version of it, same size and same basic theme and they came out so completely different. We were talking about how that is- even though you’re the artist, you can’t always nail it the 2nd time in the same way which is maybe good. Everything’s supposed to be a one-off, isn’t it? The exposures that I’ve had over the years have been wildly varied from Robert Motherwell to Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Malcolm Morley, people like that. I learned something from every one of them. When you hang around with guys of that caliber, unless you’re stupid, you learn something. Bob Motherwell was particularly sweet to me, he used to take me to lunch and we would talk art philosophy. So I’ve been lucky in that way, I’ve had a marvelous career in the arts on a number of levels. I did all kinds of things to stay alive but almost always it was somehow plugged into the art world. I’ve had a very lucky career so far. It hasn’t always been splashing in piles of money but who cares, that’s not the point of it any way.
EW: Do you tend to associate yourself with any particular art genre or classification?
DRP: I hope that I’m part of the No BS zone. No bullshit. Most of the art world is full of shit, as far as I’m concerned. Nowadays, they don’t even respect craft. You don’t have to have any ability to be famous now. If you haven’t bothered to master your craft, it’s like trying to respect a writer who hasn’t mastered his own language. If you’re subliterate, I don’t want to read anything that you have to say because I’m just not interested. We have the equivalent of people in the art scene now who disregard the requirements of the art language. They don’t understand what they’re talking about. And subsequently most of their offerings are nonsense.
EW: Do you mean artists or do you mean critics and art commentators and the like?
DRP: All sides of the art world are at fault. A lot of it is driven by the hedge fund jerks who will pay anything for something they want in order to boast about what they own. That fosters the mentality of people who won’t buy something unless they think it’s gonna double in price or something in 5 years. All the wrong reasons. Frankly, I just don’t care about it or pay any attention to it. Too old to care about all that.
EW: Do you have a favorite artist or are there any artists that inspire your art in particular?
DRP: My favorite artist is me. Of course, who else would it be? The artist Ad Reindhart said something really lovely once, he said, “I paint so I have something to look at.” Of course, lots and lots of artists that inspire me and my work. I don’t mean I’m the only good artist, there’s lots of artists out there.
EW: Can you pick three or four?
DRP: Off the top of my head? Ronnie Landfield, Peter Reginato, Charlie Yoder, Jimmy Gilroy. There’s so many wonderful painters out there. And they’re all different and completely valid.
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