New YorkJohn Mendelsohn: Color Wheel + Tenebrae Paintings
David Richard Gallery presents Color Wheel + Tenebrae Paintings, the gallery’s first solo exhibition for New York artist, John Mendelsohn.
This exhibition features two series of works by Mendelsohn, the Color Wheel paintings from 2020 and the Tenebrae paintings from 2014. Each series has a distinctive approach to color and structure, but in both groups, the abstract qualities conduct an undercurrent of emotion. Constellations of moods and meanings evoked by the paintings are reflected in two poems commissioned by the artist: Jeffrey Cyphers Wright’s “A Round” on the Color Wheel series, and Danny Rivera’s “Ekphrasis” on the Tenebrae series.
Color Wheel Paintings:
These ten paintings, 30”x21”, acrylic on canvas, are based on a circular form with rays of color projecting from their centers. The form suggests a color wheel, a device with divisions of different hues used to show color relationships. The discs in these paintings do not follow the spectrum, but rather reveal myriad color interactions, in gradated progressions. The color in these works is subtle and sonorous, with a range of blues, greens, and purples, along with warmer hues. Lighter tonalities suggest a sense of emanating and reflected light.
The fine rays which begin at the centers of the discs coalesce into dense, star-like forms, whose highly saturated color is in contrast with the less intense sectors of the circles. The discs and rays suggest many associations beyond color wheels: flower forms, chromotherapy, spinning wheels, the movement of time, the piercing appearance of the unexpected, and many more.
The Color Wheel paintings range in emotive quality from melancholy with softly illuminated atmospheres, to meditative with bouquets of deep blues, to buoyant with a full range of color. In his poem, Jeffrey Cyphers Wright focuses on the paintings’ transporting qualities, but the speaker wakes up from an imaginal realm to a sense of clarity and ‘presentness’, that is part of the paintings, as expressed in this excerpt:
Towers disappear in time and mist.
Loyalty, compassion, conviction.
Life forms around a clear center.
I learned to see the lost and missing.
These nine paintings, 40”x28”, acrylic and oil stick on canvas, are comprised of striations of color that move diagonally across the surface. The lines are both combed and painted directly, and in the process various anomalies arise – interruptions, folds, and moiré effects that disrupt the sense of continuous movement. Diluted black oil stick covers selected areas of the acrylic surface, radically changing the color and creating veins of darkness. These areas of veiled color allow for the emergence of a dimensional illusion, the sense of depth and of the folding of space.
The paintings range from intense fields of color with increasingly shaded clefts, to turbulent weavings that deepen chromatically, to fierce, descending lines emerging from darkness that has become an independent entity, to almost complete blackness with streaks of light.
Tenebrae in Latin means shade or shadow, and it is also the name for an Easter service during which the candles that illuminate the church are extinguished one by one, until there is total darkness.
The artist has noted that as he was working on the paintings, he found a reference to Tenebrae as a musical form that is part of Holy Week services, specifically the works of Gesualdo. Then later he was exposed to other composed and traditional Tenebrae music, including Renaissance polyphonic choral settings.
In his poem, Danny Rivera refers to the Tenebrae paintings in terms of their earthiness, sense of flow, musical quality, and the undercurrent of human feeling, as expressed in these lines:
What do we know of the earth, its casual bodies
and depressions? Consider the rivers, separating
Is there another name for the heart, the wrist resting
over the clavicle’s bridge, its weight a reminder
of this unknowing? No matter. Listen again to the baton
on the conductor’s stand. Listen again to the void between us.
On John Mendelsohn’s paintings:
He has been working on cycles (series) of paintings since the 1970’s, creating what he has termed “an architecture of images” — individual paintings becoming a collective presence and transform a space.
In this exhibition, the two series of paintings are hung on facing walls, creating a confrontation and conversation between contrasting visual experiences and modes of feeling. While each series is distinctive, they have in common a sense of continual change and of an existential awareness.
Within each series the paintings have a variety of relationships, but together they amplify each other, creating an expanded context for seeing. The frieze of images explores in depth a range of phenomena arising from a specific visual structure. Congruent with the paintings’ physical presence is the making of a place to encounter successive emotive states.
The series are exhibited as a line of paintings, a sequence with ruptures. The spaces between the panels suggests something that remains invisible, just as the line itself implies both a developing progression and a kind of endlessness, or at least a way to delay the end. Each painting is unique and can be viewed separately, and as part of whole to be seen together.
Over the past three decades, Mendelsohn’s work has explored shifting visual movements and optical excitations. A sense of instability in these paintings comes in many visual forms – turbulence, moiré patterns, waves, and phantom forms – and in the manipulation of paint and other mediums by combing, wiping away, marbleizing, dispersion, and other techniques.
The paintings have drawn on a variety of models, including minimalist music, the fluid dynamics of water, and textiles such as ikat. Color has been a central element, whose relationships create unexpected harmonics and overtones.
Exhibitions of John Mendelsohn’s work:
Solo exhibitions include David Richard Gallery, New York; Artists Space, New York; Scholes Street Studio, Brooklyn; Sideshow Gallery, Brooklyn; 57W57ARTS, New York; Kook Projects, New York; Cheryl Pelavin Fine Art, New York; Michael Walls Gallery, New York; Hal Bromm Gallery, New York; Rupert Ravens Contemporary, Newark; Fairfield University; University of Rhode Island; and Milliken University.
Group exhibitions include the Venice Biennale, Nordiska Kompanient, Stockholm, Sweden; P.S.1 The Institute for Art and Urban Resources, New York; Sylvia Wald and Po Kim Art Gallery, New York; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis; Hallwalls, Buffalo; and Wellesley College Museum, Wellesley, MA.
His exhibitions have been reviewed in the New York Times, Art in America, The New Criterion, The Huffington Post, Arts Magazine, Artnet, and d’Art International Magazine. He received a BA from Columbia University, an MFA from Rutgers University, and participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. He has received grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Tree of Life Foundation. He has written about contemporary art for many publications and is an Adjunct Professor in the Studio Art Program at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)