PRINT Summer 1968

Greg Card and Mary Corse

THE RECENT PAINTINGS OF Greg Card are so slight in appearance, a bare transparency of tone, that one could hardly imagine a more simply poetic yet drastically reduced set of conditions. This slightness, the apparent lack of concern with viewer involvement, is of course entirely deceptive for he is dealing with sensation close to a low threshold of stimulation. The paintings are columns of clear cylindrical acrylic plastic capped at the top and bottom, coated with even sprayed layers of transparent lacquer. They are suspended a foot away from the wall by a length of invisible nylon thread, and usually directly emphasized by an overhead spot light aimed at the top of the form. There are quite enough visual events and issues involved here to merit a discussion.

The paintings, though dimensional, are related to a logically worked out search (with acknowledged debt to fellow artist Ron Cooper) in the area of shaped “canvases” or rather shaped supports. The shape (6 feet high and 2 inches in diameter) is very nearly a line in space and relates to nothing confronted in daily experience, and has only a few vague artistic parallels: the extremely vertical proportion of Newman’s “isolated stripe,” The Wild, of 1950, and, coincidentally produced last year, Olitski’s sculptural cluster of sprayed columns, Bunga 45. These suggest a relationship between the vertical break of a line and its shaped equivalent as a bar transferred into dimension, and the concept of a spread of color wrapped about this continuous surface. One additional reference might be that Card’s recent works are the ghosts of the burned out proposals of Flavin. The choice of plastic is predicated on the necessity for a lightweight support, and a surface that is clear enough to permit the transmission of light. The machine finish of the commercial surface aids, when covered with the sparkling mists of lacquer, in the achievement of reflective and refractive qualities to demonstrate a most mysterious sensibility of color.

In suspending his paintings Card questions traditional presentation by simply extending two usual notions. In hanging a work on a wall a reasonable figure/ground relationship clearly displays the work but inevitably links it with the uneventful solidity of an architectural frame. Suspending the cylinders is a method of asserting the painting’s independence as a tactile object, and the wall is reduced to a supporting reference area; Card is as intent upon opposing illusions upon the flat plane of a traditional pictorial support. The other related concept involves the illusion of shapes floating or hovering depicted upon a picture plane; though Rothko is cited by the artist as a source for his interest in a non-gravitational unit of color, Card prefers presenting his pale strips of invisibility as simply appearing fixed in open space.

In forcing the concentration of light at the top of the work that area is more clearly focused and seems to advance in the space, while the bottom merges with the background halftones. In the more pale paintings the upper portion not only appears more crisp but also more transparent and the lower becomes heavier in feeling. This lighting produces a series of optical effects: that either the shape is bent, that the work is hung at an angle, or that it is illusionistically shaded. One’s stereoptic vision and the contrast of the assertive, vertical, primary cast shadow aid in confirming the actual situation. A closer viewpoint still offers a number of difficulties, for color and light confound a volumetric reading of the shape: the transparency of the support and of the slippery shine of the dyed spray offer next to nothing tangible or emphatic upon which to concentrate. The tube optically flattens and then becomes dimensional in a reciprocating alternation. Incidents upon the surface, the streaked and vari-hued highlights, enforce swift eye movements across and up and down the pieces.

The subtle coloration receives nearly compulsive devotion in preparation and application. From the artist we learn;

The color (of a “black” All Airline Everything .000327) is the result of two separate formulas that were developed during three months of experimentation. The total number of formulas developed amounted to five possibilities. Of these five I conceived the mixing together of the second and the fifth to be the color as I wanted it. (Greenish black with red particle reflection but not particolored by application.) Thus completed, the painting reads: color reflected, red; color transmitted, greenish black; highlighted by yellowish lime green when viewed at a right angle to the angle of incidence and reflection. All pigments used, except reflection and transmission particles, are transparent.

Each color is carefully sprayed in an elaborate and repetitious procedure. The complex series of reflected and transmitted colors are suspended in a vehicle of clear lacquer, necessitating numerous coatings, as few as fourteen and as many as twenty-eight layers.

The high quality of this concentrated body of works is all the more impressive in that the artist is entirely self-taught, though one early contact was Von Dutch Holland, the southern California automobile decorator famous for his elaborate “pin-striping” motifs. Along with his evolution as a painter one cannot discount his half-a-dozen years of experience painting motorcycle gas tanks, for this rather demanding activity can be interpreted as a sophisticated folk art involved in the unique surfacing of serial sculptural forms. His works are elegant crystallizations of that tough cycle milieu whose mechanical or structural considerations are based on strict functionalism, where painted decorations involve personal identification, and where convincingness depends on patient submergence in knowledgeable and highly technical control of craft.

Utilizing basic principles, contrasting contained and released tensions, Mary Corse is exploiting a basic and potent linear illusion to create an amazingly refined series of pictorial constructions. This illusion is a square framed by a pair of angled edges. The configuration is usually vignetted within a single line border set at some distance from the central image. The square, like the more active circle, is a compressed and tension-filled shape due to its equal measurements. This format holds its tensions taut, offering limited eye movement and no release except around or outside of it. The two framing borders do function as a release from the square’s confines and permit movement around the edges to the right and left and up and down, but the diagonally clipped corners set up a series of perspectival (isometric) implications, reading dimensionally, flipping forward and backward in the space. This somewhat confounding optical illusion hovers within the neutral openness of another framing border and this final outside line serves again to emphasize successive waves of constricted containers and regulated suspensions. A prime characteristic of the configuration and hence of most of Corse’s work is the emphasis upon a peripheral enclosure, an encompassing boundary about a more or less positive and energy-filled center.

Beginning as a painter, her last works before extending to sculpture, prints, constructions, and light were while on white shaped canvases. They are ambitious in their rigid discipline, their close attention to detail, as well as in their size. The outward stretch of the format is counteracted by the use of subtle linear bands which control the spreading span of the neutral field and direct attention to a scanning of the pristine surface.

Two pairs of identical triangular columns, elongated prismatic shapes, also give some indication of the rigorous demands of her craftsmanship. The plywood sculptures are finished with gesso, applied layer after layer, finely sanded to an ivorylike finish that is less like a skin than the substance or material composition of the works themselves. This blend of form and painted surface was achieved by half a year of concerted physical effort. She has channeled her energies to a compulsive level of handcraft where no trace of the hand remains, submerged in devotion to perfection and total concentration.

A set of serigraphs further point out her closely gauged attention to minute differences in surface in their contrast of whites, of glossy and matte inks. As in the constructions which follow, the illusions are nearly invisible when the viewer moves more than a few feet away. A set of three painted constructions carry her illusion into dimensional means interpreted as a drawing in space before the surface and around the edge. A square panel of acrylic gesso is covered by a flat box of clear Plexiglas and (though she prefers these works to be seen in dim light) when lit by a single, side light source, this projection causes the shadows of the glued seams to create her diagram inside on the painting and again outside against the wall.

The most recent work is a massive suspended light structure where fluorescent tubes, encased in opaque white Plexiglas, are covered again by a clear Plexiglas box. The panels are set into an immaculate white wood frame. The white light at the center is totally aggressive in its intensity, glares forward and escapes out the sides to cause a halation on the surface of the frame. In one of the really intelligent uses of the narrow edge of clear Plexiglas, light is transmitted to the seams describing her favored configuration as an intense white line in front of the panel. The darker greyish area around the edge of the panel helps control the internal floating sensation yet is high enough in key to convey the sense of weightlessness against the surrounding background. The light is of such power that it survives in an already lighted environment and when close to it causes numerous dazzling effects on the overloaded retinal receptors, the most easily experienced being a Poons-like sequence of dancing dark spots. Seen from a distance, as with the work of Flavin and James Turrell, one is entirely engaged in the cleanly brilliant effects and emerges refreshed from the experience of contemplating it. This work by Corse is just as convincing for one is inundated by an overwhelming optical bath of radiance. The sole written statement she would prefer to have appear is: “Light, Plexiglas (transparent and white), Electricity, Energy, Love.” A work in progress, which is quite similar, is lit by closely spaced rows of neon, and will protrude from the hung panel in front and back, again repeating her motif of a field of white, slipping forward and receding.

Fidel A. Danieli