Julian Lethbridge. Untitled, 2016-17 (detail). Courtesy the artist and Contemporary Fine Arts. Photograph: Matthias Kolb.
Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin
10 June – 2 September 2017
by MATTHEW RUDMAN
Contemporary Fine Arts (CFA) in Berlin is host this summer to 13 new works by Julian Lethbridge, whose jostling, kinetic yet rigidly composed abstract paintings are on solo show in the painter’s first exhibition in Germany. Lethbridge, who was born in Sri Lanka in 1947, was brought up mainly in England and now lives in New York. His work, which can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art and Tate Britain, among others, has long shown an affinity for the illusionistic end of the abstract spectrum, and these energetic new works are a fitting introduction to Lethbridge’s cerebral practice.
Julian Lethbridge. First Choice, 2016-17. Oil, pigment stick, on linen, 244 x 203 cm (96 x 80 in). Courtesy the artist and Contemporary Fine Arts. Photograph: Matthias Kolb.
With their bold colours, apparently random gestures and sheer scale, Lethbridge’s paintings inevitably invite comparisons to the work of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, but these likenesses fray on closer inspection. These works are not a product of chance gestures; they swarm with repeating narrow brush strokes, no two of which are the same. Neither do they place painterly gesture-making on a pedestal: these looping, meandering marks echo one another, as if undergoing some process of procedural generation under their own momentum.
The paintings are a product of painstaking processes, a layering of brushstrokes over a background pigment with varying degrees of gestural density. Lethbridge’s careful management of colour and movement creates the perception of depth and voluptuousness at a distance, the illusory impasto falling away only on closer viewings. To create such an effect requires careful planning – each of Lethbridge’s canvases are scored with thin linear marks, as if made with a knife, cutting through the paint in geometric patterns. These marks lend the works shape and composition, guiding swirls of sunspot-like reds and browns into an arcing formation, or coalescing different layers of pigment around sets of perfect circles, like neon coffee stains.
Julian Lethbridge. Battery 1, 2016-17. Oil, pigment stick, in medium, on linen, 58.5 x 40.5 cm (23 x 16 in). Courtesy the artist and Contemporary Fine Arts. Photograph: Matthias Kolb.
Lethbridge’s gestures often stop abruptly at each delineating mark, or otherwise travel in the direction of these contours: subtle guide-lines have been used to shape these busy compositions, before being etched back into the wet pigment. Curved etchings channel washes of black and grey into seething wave-like formations; whirls of paint leap step by step up a horizontal lattice. These boundaries are doing heavy lifting, imparting a sense of organic energy, even personality, to each canvas’s collective tangle of strokes.
Julian Lethbridge. Argos, 2016. Oil, pigment stick, on linen, 203 x 244 cm (80 x 96 in). Courtesy the artist and Contemporary Fine Arts. Photograph: Matthias Kolb.
The works on show are in a variety of sizes, almost all a vertical profile, ranging from 50cm studies to canvases more than two metres tall. Lethbridge uses these studies to experiment with different techniques, such as more vibrant colour palettes – red on lavender, emerald on magenta – and circular mark-making. The heightened colour contrast and smaller scales make these works less successful at creating these illusions of depth that are so arresting in works such as Argos (2016), where muted blacks and creams are punctuated by incisions drawing the eye downwards in a V-shaped waterfall, or Lacquer Workshop (2014), whose chaotic primary colour blend of reds, yellows, blacks and whites creates a roiling chaos imprisoned behind vertical ridges.
Julian Lethbridge. Lacquer Workshop, 2014. Oil, pigment stick, on linen, 183 x 152.5 cm (72 x 60 in). Courtesy the artist and Contemporary Fine Arts. Photograph: Matthias Kolb.
Lethbridge’s formal abstract style can come across as somewhat esoteric or forbidding, however this exhibition at CFA proves it doesn’t have to be. These are paintings of virtuosity, of meticulous work and dedication, a captivating and absorbing demonstration of a painter exploring his unique approach to the fullest.
Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons
The opening of Callimachus's 'Hymn to Apollo' as translated by Lombardo and Rayer. The god, patron of archers, poets and musicians, is about to arrive. The signs are all around: trembling, nodding, sweetness and singing in the air. The world is vibrating in expectation of presence. Then the poet veers off into a learned digression on Apollo's names and deeds, which becomes the whole poem: by the time he looks up from his books, the god is sat there giving Envy a kick up the backside.
Douglas Gordon: Superhumanatural
The film and video artist Douglas Gordon had his first one-man exhibition in Britain at the Lisson Gallery in 1994, sponsored by its perceptive director Nicholas Logsdail, to which he returned again in 2001. The following year, he was to exhibit 'Entre'Act 3' at the Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. 'Fuzzy Logic' followed at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and from about this time his work really took off internationally.
Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out – book review
In many ways, the course of history was changed when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, not only for Americans, but also for those who welcome change as a fundamental necessity and an inspiration.
Richard Lindner and the human being as a toy
Richard Lindner and the human being as a toy – A Lindner retrospective exhibition, shown at the Städitsches Museum Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen in November, is to be shown at the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, from January 1 until March 9, 1969.