Presented on separate floors of Tew Gallery through June 1, Minton’s multivalent and playfully complex woodcut paintings, together with Ludwig’s fecund layering of diaphanous veils of color and lush natural imagery, create a conceptual playground and a sensory feast.
An established sculptor of engaging, freestanding wooden figures, Minton began exploring the woodblock printing process in 2006 while recovering from an injury that made it difficult to work with heavy pieces of wood. He became enamored of the relief process of cutting into the flat wooden surface and decided to treat the block itself as a singular work.
Two figures emerge out of a stack of black and off-white trapezoids, red and tan disks, black and white stripes and linear patterns, against a background of large, flat orange and gray shapes defined by thick black lines. The right figure playfully raises its left arm above its head, casually pointing its index finger toward the smaller figure on its right. Its right elbow merges with a tan circle where the head of the smaller figure might be, and its arm drapes over the smaller figure and dangles a flat, red, heart-shaped pendant tenderly over its companion’s chest.
The bold contrasts and crisp, angular forms of Minton’s lively composition recall the jazz-inspired abstractions of Stuart Davis and the animated graphics of Saul Bass, while the tenderness of the figures’ casual embrace brings to mind Francis Picabia’s Dada mechanomorphs.
Within the bustling space of “Formal Greeting No. 1” lies a compendium of the gestures and lines of modernist abstraction. In the middle of the smaller figure’s sharply defined black torso, points and lines jostle for space amid crisp parallel hatching. Within each of the trapezoids composing the larger figure’s trunk, gracefully undulating lines and convoluted, painterly ribbons contrast with thick black horizontal stripes. Faint perspective lines and angled areas of flat color hint at an illusion of three-dimensional space, but chisel or burin marks that texture the off-white areas emphatically assert the materiality of the literal surface. Subverting the very process of woodblock printing, many of the incised contours and feathery texture marks were cut into the paint after it was applied to the surface of these woodcuts.
Thin contour lines animate the pale, painted surface of Minton’s “Mother and Child.” At first, this 48-inch-square panel seems very similar to the surrealist compositions of Joan Miro and the automatist abstractions of Arshile Gorky in its use of abstract line to reveal universal pictographic content. Feathery marks and criss-crossed hatching break the fields of washed gray, pink and brown, however, and details surrounding Minton’s contour figures reveal his delight in his materials.
European modernism appropriated the forms of non-Western cultures to revolutionize and, in some cases, spiritually inform the European avant-garde. Minton’s sculptures have consistently and self-consciously derived from a wide range of cultural traditions as well.
Almost five feet tall, the totemic “Least Inscrutible Girl,” from 2010, combines the “guardian” figure common to many indigenous cultures with a vocabulary of biomorphic, modernist forms. The rich colors of cottonwood and mahogany and the confident stance of this freestanding figure create an exotic and imposing presence. Interestingly, although clearly immersed in his three-dimensional medium, Minton has repeated his woodcut painting experience in his original medium by painting black stripes onto the surface and etching into them.
Minton’s complex subject matter derives from the processes and practices of his art. Deedra Ludwig uses serial practice to capture the essence of her extrinsic content on canvas. For decades she has collected materials from fragile ecosystems to mix with her traditional painting media, to capture the essence of the natural landscape. Working on several canvases at once, she interchanges elements and techniques from one to the next to convey a powerful sense of place.
Ludwig’s “Dreams of Wildness,” “Before the Flood” and “Facing South” use oil paint, ink, resin and dry pigments collected from the Louisiana coastal region. Each presents a sumptuous collection of plant forms drifting in and out of misty veils of color and shimmering haze.
In “Before the Flood,” vines and grasses float through white, blue, pink, violet and orange veils, while white silhouettes of worms and fish bones pass over the surface. The atmosphere of “Facing South” is deeper golden and golden-red, with pale white ferns whose gossamer tendrils float in the foreground. Shimmering highlights of actual powdered gold impart a precious aura to this lush, warm locale.
“Dreams of Wildness” contains the most richly varied color of the three paintings, with more crisply delineated leaves, grasses, trees and flowers that contrast the drips of watery paint flowing naturally behind, within and on top of the surface. This time, the powdered metallic pigment, combined with translucent veils of aquamarine and violet, activates the warm oranges, yellows and reds to produce an almost magical quality.
As an “environmental” artist, Ludwig’s practice can be compared to Helen and Newton Harrison, whose installations bring the experience of specific environmental concerns into the gallery space, or Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s “Hyperbolic Coral Reef Project,” which employs collaborative handicraft and higher geometry to call attention to the fragile ecosystems of coral reefs. Viewed together, Ludwig’s paintings envelop the viewer with a sense of the lushness and ephemerality of her imperiled landscape subjects.