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Dennis Bellone

It is with the greatest sadness that I tell you that our friend, Dennis Bellone, has passed away. We are all heartbroken. Dennis was a wonderful man, a dearly loved father, a brave artist and a brilliant painter. Maybe in time the words will come, but for now, I will let you see the humanity, the humor, the heart and the remarkable gifts that he possessed.

We send our condolences to all who loved him.

Godspeed and peace, my friend.

Thinking, Seeing, Painting – Further Conversations…

The conversation about Space in abstract painting, as all conversations do, has become a bit more personal and far ranging. It was inevitable. Words carry weight and if an artist is talking about one thing and doing another then things can be confusing. So in that spirit we take the comments/conversation into another public forum at Martin’s and Robin’s request.

Ok, then. Their tweets were for a discussion of the show that Martin’s curated, and you can click this linked text to read the essay and see some of the work.  Basically, I think this is Martin’s brief for the show:

“…we…are…artists who want to put back together what was torn asunder in painting over the last fifty years. We don’t ignore the ideas that motivated that deconstruction but work with them. There is a paring down of art to bare essences in the Greenbergian ethos of painting. And it extends to the point where artists start taking the very material and ground of the painting apart. Where does it end? The work of Kelley, Stella, Ryman, Tuttle and Richter, artists I’d like to label as artists of the ‘bare minimum’, informs our painting. They provide us with the iconic shapes and notions of canvas as sculpture set free by their research into the underpinnings of painting. But our plan is to do something different to them.”


It’s fairly easy in this way. Martin wants to show us work that understands and accepts the deconstruction of painting from Greenberg on to the present while perceiving/creating something “different” within that style. So do these works do this? What is different, what is this difference, how does it work?

Now Robin, who is adamant that painting find something new to paint about, has challenged Martin about his brief and this work. Basically, he’s saying that the show broaches nothing new, and he’s having a difficult time seeing in the work the things that Martin is saying about the work. And that’s about where we are. Here’s C&P from a comment Robin made in a  great conversation about abstract painting on Abcrit:

“So why can we not see a contemporary equivalent happening in abstract painting now? Why are we revelling in the facile geometry and the easy-peazy gesture of dinky little abstract paintings that can be knocked off three at a time of a Sunday afternoon? Is the association with past radical politics blinding us to the reality of the work? Why are we so tolerant of the lack of any kind of ambition…?”


I think this explains a little of the difference in viewpoints here.

Our conversation on space – space in painting, space in sculpture, what it means at this moment in time, what it means for the future of both of these disciplines – shows that “change” is becoming a real concern. And I think this is the subtext of our discussion on Space – what could abstract painting become, what should abstract painting do to make itself new? And I don’t mean that in the Modern sense! So in this vein let’s see if this conversation will continue…

21st Century Space?

The discussion of John Seed’s article on new figurative art opened up a lively back and forth about the past, present and future and the direction of painting and sculpture. I thought we might continue in a new post directed specifically at the meaning and use of space in 21st century. I think that the way we approach space, understand it has to be thought through once again. Modernism for the most part relied on what would typically be understood as a flat landscape space. This had a great deal to do with the fact that abstraction was not interested in depicting space but using space. Illusion of any kind, except maybe in the case of optical illusion or accidental illusion, was verboten. For the Modernist there are only theoretical spaces, spiritual or “sublime” spaces, but never figurative ones.

Greenberg’s Neo-Modernism set the final distinctions for space in abstract painting, and taken to its logical outcome, brought painting to an exploration of its tools and techniques – materiality and process – a thing on the wall, a thing on the floor, or a thing in the room. One does not look “into” a painting, painting is no longer an image to be seen, but it is a thing to be encountered. It is a physical reality, a form made manifest, and if you’ll forgive me Robin, a near sculptural thing. For abstraction Minimalism is the endpoint, endgame. The logocentric form, the unassailed logic of the surface and side, the reneging of any kind of illusion brought abstraction into the Postmodern era.

Of course this grew up right along with appropriation and the proliferation of the lens-based image – the reproduced image, the found image, and/or the overlaid image – all of it aimed at the space of the Neo-Modern surface. Lens-based images were used as flat things to collage over the empty “billboard” maintaining the appearance of Neo-Modern space. What remained in this photo based art was process, materiality and of course flatness – the hallmarks of consumer production. In this case Murakami’s idea of the Superflat hits the nail on the head. This space is a hybrid of the Neo-Modern space elucidated by Greenberg and the Cold War aesthetics of Mad Man culture. Clem’s idea is that this is Kitsch space, and it’s manifested in the consumer culture developed in the 20th century. It’s in these spaces that the Pop artists were able to connect consumer culture to Modernist theoretics, where retro-painting of all kinds links to market spaces, where the economics of auction house art truly exists. None of this work is directed at physical vision. It is produced and manufactured like any other economic abstraction – like junk bonds, housing bubbles, quantitative easing, or derivatives. What we are talking about is the space of exchange value, where actual vision is not needed or expected, where physical encounters slow the flow of abstraction. This kind of space is meant for the screen, the lens and the program. Space that goes nowhere, defines nothing and is infinitely flat. Space designed not to be seen but to be sold.

This is where abstraction has come to in the 21st Century. And I think this is an interesting place to be. We have a chance to redefine vision in this new abstract environment, recreate abstract space, outside of the program. Robin Greenwood believes that painting cannot accomplish such thing without resorting to figurative means, and if I’ve read him correctly, abstraction cannot exist in a figurative space, at least not on canvas. For Robin, it is sculpture that has a better chance at redefining these abstract spaces, making them more “figurative,” let’s say. John Seed takes this a bit further and actually says that pictorial figuration is the key to moving on. He insists that we must look back to our history to find a precedent, some idea of vision that may make fleshy sense of the current spatial dilemma. And Martin Mugar agreed with this idea of our extensive history being a resource. His further point that one’s personal vision determines the processes for seeing and painting makes a great deal of sense to me. His article about Cezanne finding a specific technique related to both his hand and his eye is a wonderful elucidation of the way we might move forward and define a different kind of space, a more quirky and personal one.

Of course all of this is a simplistic wrap up of the discussion, but I think that we are rounding onto something interesting. So I throw it out there once again – what is space at this stage of abstraction’s development? Is it possible for painting to move ahead (or backward) to a different kind of space and would that include abstraction? Can painting rework the Modern legacy of those early years of the 20th Century and find a different idea of what space might look like here in the 21st Century? Can a figurative space exist with abstraction? As Robin and Martin stated, there were a lot of ideas left unexplored  in the work of Matisse and Cezanne, (and I might add Picasso) ideas about space, form and composition that were never developed in the Modern Century. And I have to ask once again – is it possible to make abstract painting without the Modern legacy and what would that look like?

Paul Corio – Seen in New York: January, 2015

To begin: A special thanks to Henri Art Magazine for providing a new home for “Seen in New York” after the untimely demise of Abstract Critical.  I’ve been genuinely enjoying chronicling the broad reemergence of abstract painting in New York, albeit in my own highly opinionated way, and it’s my goal to continue writing these round-ups in September and January when so many things open all at once.

The New Year got underway with a lot of hard-edged painting.  I’ve been trying to figure out if there was actually more than there has been in the past couple of years, or it’s simply a case of my own taste acting a filter – the latter can’t be dismissed, but I think that it’s actually the former.  Here are some of my favorite shows that opened in January:


Warren Isensee, Surface Noise, 2014.  Oil on canvas, 60” x 60.”

Warren Isensee opened a particularly strong solo exhibition at Danese Corey.  There were generally fewer of the labyrinthine compositions that I associate with Isensee’s work, in favor of more centralized compositions, many of which were stripped down to a confident and nervy simplicity.  It’s not minimalist by any stretch, but he’s using the field as a kind of frame and ground simultaneously.  This leaner approach with varied spatial readings was for me most effectively exemplified in Nine by Eleven from 2014, in which a flickering red grid floats in (or is surrounded by) a yellow field over a decidedly landscape-like brown bar at the bottom of the canvas.  As to the more maximalist canvases on view, I particularly enjoyed Surface Noise from 2014.  It was a rock solid, centrally composed grid, but the celebratory approach to color kept it from feeling static or rigid.


Julie Oppermann, TH1225, 2012.  Acrylic on canvas, 82” x 72.”  Photo by Etienne Frossard.

Mixed Greens started off the year with a group exhibition in which there were several painters I’ve admired for some time, plus some who were news to me.  Anyone who’s read this column in the past knows how enthusiastic I am about Vince Contarino’s work.  He had two small canvases in the show; Space Invaders form 2014 featured his signature blend of gestural and geometric – his greatest strength – and NT/NF/16, also 2014, was more of an uninterrupted field, something I haven’t seen from him before and that I would really like to see on a much larger scale.  Suzanne Song contributed two tromp l’oeil abstractions (Slitslip and Centerfold, both 2014) in which the surfaces were built up in a thick, sandy relief.  The painted shadows and the actual shadows cast by the impasto created a loopy confusion between the real and the illusionistic – these paintings were playful in the best possible sense.  Even further into the realm of the impasto party was Zander Blom, whose candy colors and toothpaste application really should have been an undergrad disaster, but were instead quite terrific.  He had four paintings in the show, and I tended to gravitate toward the more restrained compositions, even though lack of restraint was generally their key feature; Untitled (1.615) from 2014 was my favorite.  I’ve always wondered whether Julie Opperman chose her painting style based on her name, but whatever the case may be her TH1225 from 2012 was the largest picture in the show and was a real stunner.  Its flashing moiré patterns and paint smears together read like a gestural abstraction that had been run through a shredder and then reassembled.


Dan Walsh, Landing, 2010.  Acrylic on canvas, 55” x 90.”  © Dan Walsh.  Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Dan Walsh opened a museum-style 20-year retrospective at Paula Cooper, with paintings, drawings, and books made between 1994 and 2014.  I’m always interested in agglomerations of this kind, because they invariably show the strength and evolution or conversely the limitations of an artist’s vision over time.  The former was definitely on display here – Walsh started off with a quirky, personal take on geometric abstraction and has slowly pushed and pulled it into subtly different directions.  Without ever really changing course from a fairly limited set of motifs, he’s achieved a surprising amount of variety.  The two paintings from 2010 (at least one of which I remember seeing at the time) really stood out for me.  The orange grid over a slightly wider maroon grid in Landing glowed with the intensity of a computer screen.  Playing the fully saturated color against the more earthy underlying grid and the subtle warm grey ground activated the orange in a profound way.  The framing elements at the top and sides (but not the bottom) gave it structure without boxing it in.  Framing was also a key feature in Grotto, which conjured up Islamic architecture.  The transparency of the yellow grid over the dark ground in the center read like light or projection, which created a nice tension against the solidity of the architectural references.


Kellyann Burns, 8:29 PM 8/22/12, 2012.  Oil on alu-dibond, 30” x 24.”  Courtesy of the artist and McKenzie Fine Art, New York.

Kellyann Burns showed a convincing group of hard-edged abstractions at McKenzie Fine Art.  The blocks of color were applied in layers then patiently and methodically scraped, sanded and reapplied – even the more uniform, opaque areas of color betrayed some small evidence of this continual re-working, and at their best there were shades of Hans Hoffman.  There were essentially three ranges of scale, with the large paintings around 5’ high, and the small ones only 10.”  I tended to respond to the medium size pictures best – their scale situated the viewer close enough to the surface to really appreciate the subtle undulations of color, but still gave the artist enough surface area to create nuance and surprise.  I saw the show twice and both times was drawn straight to 8:29 PM 8/22/12 at 30” x 24.”  The central color was hard to name and the smeared transparency at the bottom felt like it was in motion.  The thin red bar at the top was a terrific way of completing the composition; it created a roof for the picture, but in a most understated way.


Cheyney Thompson, StochasticProcessPainting(84048 steps) = FunctionalPath(i)(840.48 meters, 2015.  Oil on canvas, 81 1/4” x 161 13/16.”  Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York.

I’ve been very hesitant to wade in to the whole Zombie Formalism debate.  Its central conceit (although never stated in this way) is that the visual lacks profundity; that some culturally urgent subject is what gives art its importance.  The Cheyney Thompson show at Andrew Kreps seemed to me to unwittingly provide a great refutation of this position.  These paintings of grids over grids, with pale digitization and tantalizing suggestions of the photographic within the stubbornly abstract, were fantastic – one of my favorite shows of the new year.  I only later learned that the images were derived from “the random walk algorithm, a formalization of Brownian motion that is used in financial instruments to model market behavior” (quoted from the press release).  This information neither added nor detracted anything to these wonderful paintings – its only significance being that it created a starting point for compelling images.  It begins and ends with the visual for me and if that makes me a zombie, then so be it; I could spend a long time stiffly shambling back and forth in front of Thompson’s StochasticProcessPainting(84048 steps) = FunctionalPath(i)(840.48 meters). Being undead would render me blissfully ignorant of the information embedded in the picture’s title.


Clinton King, Almost Me, 2014.  Oil on linen, 64” x 50.”

Clinton King was featured in the inaugural exhibition at Transmitter in Ridgewood, Queens with a solo show entitled “Open Ended,” comprised of seven 20” x 16” paintings and four that were 64” x 50”.  The small ones were witty, but the large ones were terrific, and played with the gaps between the painterly illusion of depth and the literally two-dimensional in a variety of ways.  The grounds in each were composed of somewhat wavy stripes in muted and subtly modulated colors that were softened and blended at the edges, and which conjured landscapes, seascapes, and cloudscapes – the traditional space (both literally and metaphorically) of painting from Poussin through impressionism.  A loosely drawn faming element was added by what looked like a finger being smeared through the paint; the kind of drawing you might see someone make on a dirty or frosty car window.  Added to this were simple compositions of thin black stripes, which were given subtle drop shadows – they seemed to float about ¼” above the picture plane.  This index of spaces kept these deceptively simples paintings endlessly interesting.  My favorite was Almost Me; it was the most saturated of the bunch, and the placement of the finger-painted smears and the black stripes were the reverse of the above description.

This piece is getting long, and I don’t want to test the patience of my new host, or you, the reader.  So briefly:


Gary Petersen, Another Life, 2014.  Acrylic on Canvas, 20” x 16.”

Gary Petersen opened a strong solo at Theodore:Art.  The big draw was two large murals painted directly on the gallery walls, but I must say that the large assortment of small paintings really knocked me out.  In the last year Petersen has added a few new motifs to his usual selection of stripes and frames, and they’re working.  Look for Another Life from 2014, in which the planes, ellipses, and bands all posit different spatial vantage points.  Siri Berg showed color-driven work from the 70s through the 90s at Hionas Gallery.  The three lovely Kabballah paintings in the front were strongly influenced by minimalism yet still incredibly poetic.  Sarah Eichner hung a nice group of op-inspired canvases at Sears Peyton.  The obsessive, recessional space of Spectrum Flags and the layered perspective matrices of Spectrum Weave 3 were especially compelling.  “Working Knowledge” was a large, ambitious group show in a bootstrappy, artist-run space called Lorimoto in Ridgewood, Queens.  There was lots to like, but I was especially taken with contributions by Robert Otto Epstein, Ryan Dawalt, and Rob De Oude.  Another strong group exhibition was “Elements” at Minus Space.  There were solid paintings from Li Trincere, Cris Gianakos, Vincent Como, and the venerable Mark Dagley, but the real star was Rachel Beach – I generally don’t have much valuable insight into the discussion of sculpture, but her work is awfully hard to ignore.

Paul Corio

January, 2015

Gallery Links:
Danese Corey:
Mixed Greens:
Paula Cooper Gallery:
McKenzie Fine Art:
Andrew Kreps Gallery:
Hionas Gallery:
Sears Peyton Gallery:
Minus Space:

John Seed’s Back to the Future

There’s an interesting article on the Huff Post by John Seed about the situation facing, well, mainly, painting, and by extension, the now non-existent avant-garde. One of his conclusions that seems right on the money is:

“The problem is that the definition of avant-garde needs to be revised to encompass and include art and artists that are brave enough the reach backwards and forwards at the same time. The avant-garde of the future needs to feed itself with hybridization, consolidation and assimilation.

I think that painting has to look back over its shoulder to realist and academic painting before the Salon des Refusés; in fact, it can and should go all the way back to Lascaux if it needs to. I see the history of painting as a very long line with no beginning and no end.”

A Brief Rant on the Exhaustion of the Avant-Garde, Zombie Formalism and What Contemporary Painting Needs to Move Forward, John Seed, HuffPost, June 27, 2015.

I do not agree with all of the premises he suggests in the piece. Seed seems to think that representational work can offer us a way out. Though I love figurative art, I believe there needs to be a really different engagement with that history. “Representation” has to find some other kind of visual basis, some real visual urgency if it’s to have any relevance and innovation FOR us. The problem is that “representation” is ubiquitous. We are too enthralled with our lenses, too limited by the representation of reality that we see in our programs, too busy with our selfie sticks. Look, there is more contemporary “representation” stashed in my iPhone than I can take some days, and I certainly don’t want any of those images translated directly in paint! Especially not by an academic realist. And please, spare me the nude in the studio business. If you want a new kind of urgent Realism check out Adam Curtis’ Bitter Lake.

Additionally, technique and process are great, but that’s not going to move us forward! Perfecting a skill does not make for progressive art. Vision does. What pushed the early Modernists to innovate was the urge to understand new and different ways of seeing and understanding the times in which they lived. What they found was that they had to adapt old techniques in order to do it – laying differing colors side by side to create optical illusions was nothing new – Michelangelo did it on the Sistine ceiling centuries before, and the more contemporary Delacroix demanded a weird mottled color in his own Romantic visions. Maybe it’s all been done, but that’s no excuse. We must hone to our vision, to seeing, and do what that demands of us. Simple questions – how do we see the world, what do we actually see, and how does that define our lives? This will drive innovation backwards or forwards – it always has.

If we as artists do look back along the long history of art it must be in order to find something that can make sense of this moment, of our life in this time. And if we do find something that can work, this kind of “hybridized” work will look strange, clunky and uncomfortable to those schooled in the Postmodern academies. I agree with John. This should be a risk we painters should take – especially at this time!

Paul Corio Comes to Henri!

Paul Corio, artist, painter and theorist, will continue his famous gallery round up right here on Henri. As many of you know Paul has been assiduously following the gallery scene in New York City, and writing some of the best criticism about painting and abstraction that you’ll find online. His first column will be posted shortly! Stay Tuned!

Paul’s new painting “Guns of August,” a wall sized work at 9 x 15 feet, will be shown at Ventana in Part II of Oysters with Lemon. The show opens this Friday from 6 to 9 pm!   Andrew Huston’s and Michael Zahn’s ongoing exhibitions also include many exciting abstract painters, both known and unknown, and they are a “must see” for anyone interested in the continuing relevance of abstraction and painting!

Paul Corio Guns of August



Lindemann’s Lament

The great Adam Lindemann is discovering that toiling in the trenches is not as much fun as riding in the limo!

“What’s missing today is connoisseurship, and original thinking. People can’t be bothered. They don’t have time for it or they simply don’t care. No one has patience for listening and learning; high stakes art selling relies on creating the feeding frenzy that triggers an irrational impulse-buy. The market is fueled by pure hustle; the most successful dealers are the ones who are best at selling the sizzle, because no one gives a damn about the steak.”


Adam Curtis’ Bitter Lake

Brilliant, troubling, beautiful and horrific. Adam Curtis’ new movie for the BBC – Bitter Lake
Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 4.55.38 PM


Pittura Fresca

Ventana “Oysters With Lemon,” Part I.
January has been a bit dreary, but Ventana brings us color, form, beauty, wit and charm!
Get out to see the show!


Ventana_Part I_A




The Year of the Black Dog Barking!

The wonderful Orson Welles had a visceral image he would use for his recurring depression and worry. He would say the “Black Dog is barking.” And I think that’s an appropriate image for my past year. A nagging philosophical debate has been warring in my mind about the state of art, the state of the art world itself and if I want a place in it. I have found no true or false answers, no easy solutions, but quite frankly, I’ve grown tired of the tautologies and the solipsism. My barking dog has been relentless, tireless. I’m sure every artist goes through something like this at some point in their lives, a moment when one’s cherished philosophies must change in order for one to proceed – fight the fights worth fighting, let go everything else. But who knows, maybe it’ll all wind up in the dog house anyway.

matisse chair


Luxe, Calme et Volupté

For me there’s something deliciously decadent and hopeful about this image of Monsieur Matisse. There on the right a slightly disapproving, square-jawed matron sternly observes the scene – a drawing of a tangled figure and a painting of a movie set interior, a dog sleeping on the patterned abstraction. Matisse himself sits with a book (sketch book?), his feet casually crossed on the stacked leather pillows. There’s a bourgeois elegance to the image, a discrete artistic nonchalance and surprising bohemian excess that so few of us can carry off these days. And why should that be? Life and art exist at once in this picture. It’s as if Rauschenberg’s famous “gap” hasn’t yet taken hold of our imaginations. You know, that gap between art and life that opened up right after the AbExers ran out of steam in ’55. That gap that turned art making into art production. That gap that became synonymous with the Postmodern era.


Dave Hickey is famous for espousing the 40 year law of art – after 40 years it’s permissible to start stealing from the art of that particular era. He then added the proviso that if you thought that the particular 40 year old art in question still sucked, then you had his permission to go back further and steal from an era where the art did not suck. What Dave didn’t explicitly say was that when one does this one has to make that stolen art one’s very own. It’s not enough to just add your signature. For those who want to make art that does not suck stealing is not just about the patina of age, the legitimacy of an art form or the nostalgia for a golden era. Instead it’s about the life and excitement of an idea. Stealing in this sense becomes more like a biblical coveting, something illicit, a sin. It’s like sneaking around with your neighbor’s sloe-eyed spouse or joy riding in a smokin’ hot Little Red Corvette that you picked up in a 7/11 parking lot. Nor is this kind of stealing about the academic “exigencies of desire” or our contemporary mania for appropriating and curating, which to my mind look more like mergers and acquisitions rather than passionate assignations. No, we are not looking to expand our fiscal holdings or do away with a bothersome market competitor. We are not looking for synergies or symbiosis.

What we are looking for, what we are doing is actually involving ourselves in the provenance of the stolen goods, actually folding them into our lives so that they become ours, become part of us; inviolate, inseparable, whole. We’re interested in the life of an idea, not signatures or attributions. This requires actually embodying these non-sucking things, right out there in the open for all to see. It’s something that David Shields called Reality Hunger – the need we experience for authenticity, reality. We are not disguising our stolen properties, our stolen kisses and thick assignations through shell corporations or wholly owned subsidiaries. We do not curate them to a wall so that our Instagram will look interesting to instantaneous clickers. Instead, we who steal cherish what it is that we have stolen. We enfold those things, make them our very own, keep them FOR us rather than for others. In other words stolen things should be “cloud”-less. So maybe this 40 year law is not about time or eras or the past at all, but about the sucking…

Rocket Raccoon: Question. What if I see something that I wanna take and it belongs to someone else?
Rhomann Dey: Then you will be arrested.
Rocket Raccoon: But what if I want it more than the person who has it?
Rhomann Dey: Still illegal.
Rocket Raccoon: That doesn’t follow. No, I want it more, sir. Do you understand me? What are you laughing at? What? I can’t have a discussion with this gentleman?

Who would have thought that an animated raccoon would define what it means to be an artist? A thief who wants it more. Not someone looking to corner a market or come up with a gimmick. But someone who just wants it more. For instance – shouldn’t we want abstraction to be more than it has been? Shouldn’t we want painting to be more than it has been? Shouldn’t we want more ideas that challenge the status quo? Shouldn’t we want artists who love art more, not artists trying to prove a point? For me that means Modernist art, the Postmodern era, the Neo-Liberal Economic Fun Base of professional artists everywhere has to be challenged again and again until the penny drops. It also means throwing the baby out with the bath water – no more Modernism or recombinant Modernism in any form – period. Make an abstraction, a sculpture, a video, whatever, without the Modern tropes. Think! Do! Be! 40 years, Hell! Go back to just before the 1860s and find a contemporary abstraction in that!

Look, do we really need to sit in awe of things like this – Billionaires Chasing Warhols Fuel $16 Billion Art Sales.” - for yet another year? Nope! I was finally able to get my black dog to sleep soundly on my abstractions, and for the moment, he seems fairly at ease. At least he’s not barking so loudly any longer, though he does growl now and then.

One thing at a time…

Happy New Year.