Terry Winters

The Terry Winters exhibition in Lucerne encompassed a representative selection of the artist’s drawings and paintings from 1982 to 1985. Its emphasis was on the documentation of his recent work; however, it also provided insights into preceding stages of Winters’ development through a judicious selection of relatively early drawings. This miniretrospective was mounted, no doubt, because Winters had not yet had a one-man show in Europe; but it is also extremely appropriate in terms of the nature of his work. In Winters’ oeuvre, the concept of “development,” or of derivation in a biological or mathematical sense, describes not only the usual (or at least assumed ) processes of technical and conceptual maturation but also the underlying thematic concern of the work itself, which in turn determines the formal presence of the paintings. This close alignment of content and form is a cross-fertilization of the intellectual and the sensual, and the source of the paintings’ fascination. In the course of addressing the theme of natural growth Winters discovers appropriate metaphorical structures on which, as if on a trellis, the organic process of painting itself can expand and mature.

Winters’ own process is in effect an intensely subjective morphology: his formal vocabulary is developed from direct observation of nature, botanical studies, and the study of microorganisms. Here one can observe how detailed representation may assume a playful autonomy; without denying its source, it elevates the objective world to a metaphorical plane on which reality attains a verity beyond objecthood. Winters’ repertoire of formal motifs unnfolds in his drawings with all the rich variety and precision of the microscopic world that inspired them; yet the biological forms have been freely improvised up on, making them of more than merely scientific interest. Winters invokes an autonomous, reflexive space that stimulates and liberates the viewer’s imagination while keeping it from drifting off into tangential flights of fancy.

The reflexiveness that we find in Winters’ drawings is even more pronounced in the paintings. The literal materialization of the formal structure from successive layers of oil paint simultaneously enhances the validity of the representation and makes us acutely aware of the object of representation: the image appears to oscillate between reality and its interpretation. Painting takes the mimetic process of drawing a step farther, transforming the metaphorical content of the drawing into a metaphor of the painting process itself; that is to say, the complexities of form and content serve as the occasion to manifest and extend painterly values, to create natural fields of energy from contrapuntal color and masterful counterpoints of density and transparency, reflection and absorption. The concrete object is reduced in varying degrees to a purely spiritual presence, a backdrop against which painting can freely unfold, to become the autonomous subject of the works.

Winters’ paintings, for all their modesty of scale and execution, are brilliant; but their brilliance does not blind us—it clarifies. His highly developed technique is engaged in a continual dialogue with its underlying esthetic, a sensibility that grants the painter complete creative freedom while simultaneously putting up the kind of resistance that shapes and gives direction to intuition.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.