New York

Terry Winters

Matthew Marks Gallery

I was always a dissenter when it came to Terry Winters’ early work, unwilling to accept that his collections of bravura incident constituted paintings. Apparently owning up to the structural bagginess of his previous efforts, Winters has cleared away the organic imagery—those squishy protozoa that floated around the canvases—and set to work reconstructing pictorial space—rejoining, in other words, Modernist abstraction’s project of turning space into its own image.

In these paintings a multilayered space is woven out of three linear structures: grids, arcs, and diagonals. The resulting configuration contains no end of opposites: orthodox Modernist flatness and perspectival recession, architectural and organic structure, anthropocentric concentricity and Cartesian homogeneity. The expanse of each painting is fundamentally open and allover despite the tendency toward greater density near the center. Both the color and the surface qualities of many of these paintings seem deliberately uningratiating, at times reminiscent of the work of Georg Baselitz (for instance in Light Source Direction, 1997), but the practiced fluency of Winters’ hand—of his eye too—is never in doubt. A few of the paintings are near-grisailles, though subliminally lush in their buried tonalities (such as Branching Structures and Developmental Surface Model, both 1996), but elsewhere colors multiply along with the crosscutting bands of paint (Image Location, 1997). It’s easy to overlook the way Winters’ manifold interlacings (at their densest in Reflection Line Method, 1997) retain their clarity well beyond the point at which, in another painter’s hands, the degree of complexity would have bogged them down in confusion, though he also allows the bands to clog up just where it makes sense for the linear image to go out of focus.

In reproduction, these profusely crisscrossing and subdivided paintings can appear to possess a jumpy, quick rhythm. In the flesh they unfold slowly. On close examination, the underlying gesture seems deliberately rendered, not brash and instantaneous. Owing a debt to both Constructivism and Expressionism—looser than the former, more controlled than the latter—the method speaks of care more than of spontaneity. The paintings are also interestingly old-fashioned. The territory into which he is following Brice Marden is none other than that of Abstract Expressionism, and his version relates as much to its underrated “second generation” as to the more heralded first (and perhaps to its European avatars as much as its American ones).

The desire among many of today’s painters (even Richard Prince and Christopher Wool have turned malerisch) for a more “impure,” complex, or paradoxical abstraction demands that we question the desire articulated by Barnett Newman for a self-evident image. This reevaluation need not collapse into a facile eclecticism. Winters’ new paintings show that a sense of conviction can install itself amidst heterogeneity. The philosopher Donald Davidson observes that, within a single thought, “it is necessary that there he endless interlocked beliefs. The system of such beliefs identifies a thought by locating it in a logical and epistemic space.” In this sense, the swarming lines and multiple systems of a Winters painting map a single, coherent thought, in all its specificity.

Barry Schwabsky