What follows is another in a series of posts reflecting on the art in “Endless Beginnings”, on view through April 19, 2015 in the South Gallery of West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park. In earlier posts, we wrote about Tom Cullins finding abstraction in the natural world (here); how Val Rossman and Idoline Duke continue a tradition started by early Modern abstract artists that use color and shape as a way of expressing ideas about the world in which we live (here); and how Lois Eby paints motion, energy, and music (here).
Little Touches of Color
Richard Cloutier in Endless Beginnings
With soft lines and thick paint, Richard Cloutier offers the viewer “hypothetical architectures” that convey the emotions of space. In Les Nouveaux Vestiges No.20, as vertical lines pass above and between bars of color, a sense of depth and space begins to take shape; as if one could walk into the two-dimensional painting and walk around its various compositional elements. Cloutier combines his training as an architect with his expertise as a painter to generate this effect. This in and of itself would make his art remarkable. But there is something else going on in these paintings that takes them to a completely different level. And to understand that, it helps to look back to the beginnings of Abstract Expressionism.
In the aftermath of World War II, artists struggled to find a new way to communicate with painting. They were particularly interested in having a dialogue about the human experience, particularly the idea of a universal experience in light of the horrors of the war. They saw painting a means of salvaging humanity from the wreckage of war. American artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and others pioneered a movement of painting that became Abstract Expressionism. They abandoned representational art and painted large canvases so that people would feel inside the painting when they stood in front of it. More importantly, they made compositions where there was no central focal point. The whole painting was the subject.
But one of their less famous contemporaries laid the groundwork for their epic shift from representational to non-representational painting. Years before Pollock and Rothko and others shifted to this new way of painting, Clyfford Still began laying down thick impasto onto canvas. The patches of solid color formed spaces that were juxtaposed with other patches of solid color.
“In Abstract Expressionist compositions, the entire composition is the image. It is one thing. The left corner is as equally important as what’s going on in the center,” said Dean Sobel, Director, Clyfford Still Museum. “Or in the case of Clyfford Still’s work, there’s little touches of color that make appearances almost in surprising ways to draw attention to the entire surface of the picture, so our eyes are continuously moving over these Abstract Expressionist paintings, trying to find an image to rest on. But, in fact, that’s part of the game. We’re constantly moving over these images, just as the artists were as they were painting them.”
Through this technique, Still was able to give the viewer the artist’s experience of the painting. By adding “little touches of color” he invites the viewer to stand beside him and share the experience.
We see a reprisal of this technique in Cloutier’s paintings. For example, just off to the right of the ochre-colored vertical line in Les Nouveaux Vestiges No.20, Cloutier paints speckles of fire-engine red, ultramarine blue and goldenrod. In the horizontal bar in Les Nouveaux Vestiges No.15, a series of intimate drips of mauve, gold, and red pause like notes in the air, while “little touches” of purple cling to the vertical stripe on the far right side. These are rewards to the attentive viewer but they are also invitations to the spaces these paintings create. They are the artist saying to the viewer, Join me in this wonderful world, let me show you how beautiful it can be.