Ace Gallery is pleased to present Excavations, an exhibition of recent works by New York based artist Melissa Kretschmer.
Excavations orchestrates a palette of plywood, vellum, gesso, gouache, beeswax and graphite. These materials, associated with traditional painting, summon contrasts of surface and interior, translucency and opacity, subtlety and coarseness, and offer a luminous space through color and geometry.
Known for her sensitivity and range of materials, Kretschmer explores a juncture of painting and sculpture in an effort to subvert the simple dichotomy of “surface and support”. As in painting, the surface registers an image. As in sculpture, form emerges through the dimensionality and physical characteristics of constituent materials. The actors in Kretschmer’s works are her materials, instrumental both in their physical and optical properties.
Plywood plays an important double role as structure and surface. Plywood is a tough, utilitarian building material made of thin veneers of laminated wood. The grain of each layer is oriented at opposing angles, giving durability. One might consider the significance of plywood to Kretschmer’s oeuvre— as she states: “what happens on the surface begins deep within.” It is an idea that carries throughout her work.
On the top surface of these pieces, Kretschmer applies vellum and gesso in layers. Modern vellum is a thin, smooth, translucent paper. Gesso is a white, pigmented primer, commonly used to prepare a canvas for oil paint. Combined, vellum and gesso read as a semi-opaque, milky-white field.
Kretschmer draws her saw blade through the plywood thickness. The circular blade etches an arcing path as it descends into the wood layers. The incisions are left raw, providing new linear surfaces of different depths. In each piece the cuts run in a single direction, forming bands where material has been removed. In multi-panel pieces, these bands are positioned at edges but placed toward the interior of the piece, where panels align without touching, aribbon of wall space between them. It is as if the wood has been cut away until it is absent, leaving gap and wall—like Barnett Newman’s zip, but a negation. In works such as Strand, Side Line, and Violet Vale the bands and gaps run vertically (like Newman’s). In other works— Rose Drifter and Beryl Drifter, they cross horizontally.
Kretschmer’s spare brilliant color is achieved with graphite, beeswax, and a variety of paints including gouache, casein, and Flashe. These materials fill gutters and edges of the plywood core revealed by the saw cuts. From a distance, one sees stripes; on approach, details of material interactions appear—the washes of color absorbed by the wood fibers—the pours of wax clotting surfaces. Technical resolution is elegant but rough. Accident and incident are retained.
Collectively, these works explore the pictorial plane—glowing white fields—and the substantial material of that surface, excavated through incision and emphasized with applied color. Kretschmer investigates painting as both a perceptual depth and a physical depth by featuring her materials in their inherent constitution, not covering over, but cutting into and showing through.
The spare compositions with broad spaces and dense directional bands may evoke a sense of landscape space, while simultaneously revoking illusion through the blunt literalness of the elements. Titles such as In Plane View and Beside a Margin play at this juncture.
As critic and art historian Barbara Rose writes of Kretschmer’s production: “the work does not refer to anything outside of itself. It is a physical presence arising from technical procedures that asserts itself without exaggerated declamation. Images are not depicted, but arise from the interaction of materials and techniques in a slow, quiet, obsessive way.”
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