Sam Gummelt

Janie C. Lee Gallery

SAM GUMMELT uses photographs of doors and windows as a point of departure for his large-scale, elegant paintings. He doesn’t paint from photographs, but is inspired by the overlay of colors on old wood and the proportions set up within enclosing rectangles of a door or window. Sometimes he scales his work exactly to the original doorway. The paintings consist of several stretched canvases put together, complete with strip molding. The back is almost as interesting as the front, where the stretchers are supported with a grid of subdivisions. Although the works are certainly to be experienced as paintings, this constructed aspect gives them an important physical dimension.

A roomful of these predominately gray canvases is quieting; one feels surprised that, in this period of increasingly complex painting, Gummelt is still willing to take on so limited a set of options for his art. The oil and wax medium lends itself to surface texture. The best canvases take advantage of this by relying on brushstroke for the activation of the surface. In fact, Gummelt works best when not concerning himself with large areas of color contrast. In Parrott the physical subdivisions of the canvas are almost entirely gray, only a red across the bottom stabilizes it. The interest in the canvas is in the surface texture and the inner junctions of the stretchers, where Gummelt gets very involved in gessoing the cracks and in painting them with bright flashes of blue or red that peek out of the edge of the gray surface. Suddenly the whole canvas is suffused with an undercoat of some strong color that enlivens the great gray areas.

Gummelt’s paintings certainly have their antecedents in Jasper Johns’ use of gray encaustic and separate stretched canvases. The enclosed rectangles and geometric composition recall Rothko, Motherwell’s “Window” series, as well as a whole half-century of exploration of geometric compositions, not to mention the window tradition that goes back to the Renaissance. Yet, Gummelt’s paintings stand on their own, especially when they are most subtle and understated.

Susan Platt