Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Hot Take

Will Bentsen, Untitled No. 1 (8-14-20) WB-004, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. All images courtesy of the artist and Lowell Ryan Projects.

Exhibition Review

Hot Damn!

Will Bentsen

Lowell Ryan Projects

November 7 – December 19, 2020


It ought to be illegal to review a painting exhibition remotely. With abstract painting especially, scale, texture, and surface are important parts of the content of the work. But given the global pandemic, and despite a distance of 3000 miles, that is exactly what I will attempt to do. Because of the limited number of works in Hot Damn! and the availability of generous documentation—large individual images of the works plus installation shots—it seems possible, in this case, to say something meaningful about the exhibition.


Will Bentsens show at Lowell Ryan projects in Los Angeles consists of nine paintings, all acrylic on canvas, all untitled except by numbers. All are body-sized at 72 x 60 inches. The works generally have a maximum of four colors, in distinct areas rendered as contiguous fields or flurries of strokes. The reduced palette of the paintings gives them a raw, primal feeling, as captured by the shows blunt, cheeky title.

Will Bentsen, Untitled No. 1 (8-14-20) WB-005, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches.

With the works installed as an ensemble, the colors cover most of the spectrum. There is a recurrence of green, gold, orange, pink, and ultramarine blue. Few darker colors appear, except in WB-004 and WB-008 which are partly structured by the use of brown. Bentsens chunky strokes, with limited variation in size, range from a long dash to thick loops that recall the net-like structures of Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain series. Joan Mitchells paintings of the 1980s, and Howard Hodgkin's mature style may also be influences on Bentsens loaded arching strokes. The artist occasionally departs from this technique: tall thin loops of green appear at the right side of WB-002, and WB-004 has concentric squares of pale orange that undergird the composition. 

Will Bentsen, Untitled No. 1 (8-14-20) WB-006, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches.

Will Bentsen, Untitled No. 1 (8-14-20) WB-002, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches.


Bentsen sometimes pours acrylic paint, producing an effect that evokes Helen Frankenthalers work. Lower layers are often stained into the canvas, with another color pushed up against the poured area or laid on top of it. Large shapes move toward the edge of the rectangle, with upper layers loosely woven and white strokes sometimes applied on top. Blank canvas is persistently visible at the edges or through semi-transparent layers of paint. Untidy organic shapes strain against the neat rectilinearity of the paintings’ supports. 


Will Bentsen, Untitled No. 1 (8-14-20) WB-009, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches.

There is an undeniably performative aspect to Bentsens works, and the gesture so much in evidence is one of reaching or yearning. These abstract compositions do not feel like landscapes; rather there is a persistent suggestion of animals, or animal-shaped parts. The flat fields of color are like skins laid out. Brush strokes may be bones or antlers. Yet ultimately, a lightness and slapdash quality render the works hopeful and exhilarating. Just as Bentsen’s expressive use of color owes a debt to the Fauves, he himself paints like an exuberant, wild beast. 


--Jeff Frederick 

Will Bentsen, Untitled No. 1 (8-14-20) WB-008, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches.

Will Bentsen, Untitled No. 1 (8-14-20) WB-003, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Summer Brooms

Cat Balco, Large Red Beach, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72 inches. All images courtesy Rick Wester Fine Art/© Cat Balco, 2019.

Exhibition Review

Cat Balco
Rick Wester Fine Art
526 West 26th Street, Suite 417
November 7, 2019 – January  25, 2020

The works in Cat Balco’s current exhibition, “My Exploding Stars,” are an antidote to the horror of our current political situation: they present a meditative space that is buzzing with positive energy. They also show a significant shift from the artist’s earlier paintings of just this year, center-focused abstractions made up of handmade strokes in pastel-colored patterns which Balco called “Stars.”

Balco says she developed the recent compositions by zooming in on sections of her previous  paintings, yet the strokes are so enlarged that it is not easy to find a direct correspondence. Made using push brooms, in a move reminiscent of Ed Clark, the new paintings are built with foot-wide or larger slabs of color. They are almost landscapes, but can also be seen as purely indexical marks on canvas, a record of their own making.

Cat Balco, Wide Open Angles, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72 inches.

An obvious influence is Franz Kline, who famously blew up his ink drawings with a projector to arrive at his signature black and white abstractions. Here, Balco has figured out how to make a Kline work in saturated color. Her paintings also have an affinity with Frankenthaler’s vivid late-1960’s compositions, and with de Kooning’s Parkway Series, or his Door To The River.

Cat Balco, Blue Diamond, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.

The exhibition consists of twelve medium to large paintings, all square, ranging from 40”x40” to 72”x72”. These ambitious body-sized works grab your eye and then don’t let go. And the bigger they are, the better. Diagonal strokes suggest a vortex pushing back into space, and many of the top layered strokes are at put on at angles to the square. (Three of the paintings have “triangle” in the title.) Occasionally Balco uses color to create a drop shadow, a technique that appears often in the Star paintings. This has the effect of teasing open what remains a determinedly shallow depth.

Color in the paintings is summery, with super-saturated reds and yellows, pinks and oranges, cooled by medium and light blues. Titles like Large Red Beach, Summer Rectangles and Red Blue Sail conjure a seaside mood, and triangles of blue often evoke water. The brushstrokes, or broomstrokes, are intensely visible, and strokes with splatters at the edges can be quite moving. Transparency is also effectively used. These paintings are performed, expressed, but not contrived.

Cat Balco, Red, Blue Yellow Triangles, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.

Balco has said, as quoted in the gallery press release, that she tries to make the works in nine or fewer strokes, and one wonders if there is some relation to “Seven Plus or Minus Two,” the number of items we can keep in short term memory at one time (the reason for seven digits in phone numbers). Maybe nine strokes is the largest number of elements we can simultaneously keep in mind while looking at a painting. There is a great deal of hope in Balco’s paintings, communicated in the intensity of the colors and the power of the strokes. I walked through the gallery drunk with a kind of joy.

--Jeff Frederick

Cat Balco, Red Blue Sail 2019, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Drawn Habitats

Linda Matalon, Untitled [diptych], 2019, graphite and wax on paper, 50 x 76 inches

Exhibition Review

Linda Matalon
Emmanuel Barbault
325 Broome Street
November 5 - December 20, 2019

Linda Matalon’s thoughtfully installed exhibition of careful yet strong graphite and wax drawings is called “Canto,” ostensibly as an homage to the poetry and sensibility of Dante.  Certainly, the works have enough suffused brightness to merit the epigraph from The Divine Comedy in the gallery catalogue:  “When the dawn opened, and the night was not.”  But “canto” also translates to “I sing,” and the drawings do come across as arias with sensitively rendered shapes emerging, off-center, from densely layered fields of marks and diverse visual textures. 

The overall effect of the erasures, oily saturations, small rips and abrasions, smudges, and shadowy underlayers is of a thoroughly lived-in world.  The shapes that populate this world — many of them proto-circular, though no circle is closed or even close to round — appear hopeful in an effort to find their form, yet register a slight sadness in their inevitable incompletion.  Such is life.  Life also emerges from the drawings — which range from a small, older sample to mostly medium-to-large works — when they are examined over time.  Lines that are in dialogue with the primary shapes can be seen lurking beneath the picture plane, behind more defined forms. 

Linda Matalon, Untitled [diptych], 2018, graphite and wax on paper, 30 x 44¾ inches

The cumulative experience of the drawings takes hold after sitting on the bench in the center of the gallery, which Matalon designed and produced for the space.  The wide, thick, buffed wood — and the raw wood support underneath — complement the drawings, so that the furniture becomes part of the overall installation and architecture.  A visible seam in the milled surface even echoes the compositional structure of some of the drawings (including one duet of large, erased photographs), which consist of adjoining sheets of paper.  

Installation view, Linda Matalon, Canto, 2019

These drawings are daring without having bravado.  Their smudges and waxiness have much in common with large drawings by Roni Horn and older paintings by Brice Marden (especially his unfinished bottom sections).  Their palette, layered density, and reference to an Italian classic suggest the work of Cy Twombly.  Florence Derieux's catalogue essay suggests a connection to Eva Hesse, which fits the sense of fragility in translucent materials.  Still, Matalon’s formal language expands on her own unique vocabulary.  After spending time in this beautifully considered exhibition, everything else I looked at — not only the outside world, but other exhibitions — seemed garish.

— Karen Schiff

Linda Matalon, Untitled [diptych], 2019, erased photograph, 16 x 45 inches