Back to the Future – “Part I”

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  • July 9, 2015

December 12, 2014 – January 11, 2015
Opening reception: Friday, December 12th, 6-9 pm

Mandy Lyn Perez, Baby Bell, 5 x 5 in., mixed media on canvas adhered to wood panel, 2014

One of the bedrock principles of the Life on Mars Gallery mission, and an important part my curatorial vision, is to explore painting’s continued relevance in the 21st century. One way to accomplish this objective is by examining the continuity between different generations of painters, and the ability of painting to reinvent itself. We want to explore painting’s future by understanding its connection to the past.In this two-part, eight-week exhibition, we focus on that connectivity.

Part I of Back to the Future not only directly references the artists in Part II, but also looks back a couple of generations, with a nod to the historic Sidney Janis Gallery and their Young Americans exhibitions. These groundbreaking events happened every two years and featured artists that Sidney, or his son Carroll, selected; artists that they believed were important, on the verge of recognition and deserving both more attention and a wider audience. The reference to Americans carried over from a time when the notion of an “American Painting” was important. We mention these exhibitions because their impact lasted considerably beyond an immediate, post-World War II relevance in the art world.

Janis used the word “young” rather colloquially. I had the good fortune to participate in one of those exhibitions in 1980 at the tender age of 25, along with the painters Charles Clough, Carol Diehl, Valerie Jaudon, Joseph Marioni, Joan Thorne and Thornton Willis, whose ages ranged from 25 to 45.

There weren’t any thematic consistencies that championed one specific “school“ of work in the Janis exhibitions. Rather, they focused on individual painters, attempting to bring their work to a wider audience at a moment when – regardless of style or
chronological age – they were coming of age. In our Back to the Future exhibitions, we want to emulate Janis by showing paintings that reflect the vibrancy of and commitment to the varied and deeply-held studio practices of each painter in the exhibition.

Todd Bienvenu, Interns Abusing the Xerox Machine,
67 x 76 in, oil on canvas, 2014

Part I of Back to the Future will feature the painters Yevgeniya Baras, Todd Bienvenu, Travis Fairclough, Daniel John Gadd, EJ Hauser, Samuel Jablon, Dana James, Meg Lipke, Mike Olin, Mandy Lyn Perez, Matt Phillips and Jason Rohlf, whose ages range from 24 to 45.

Part II of Back to the Future will examine some of those who were painting in Williamsburg in the early eighties (many of whom were friends): Peter Acheson, Katherine Bradford, Rick Briggs, Bill Jensen, Margrit Lewczuk, Chris Martin, Joyce Pensato, James Siena and Amy Sillman, who are now among the most influential and critically-acclaimed painters working today. Their audience and influence has grown global – as they exhibit in premier galleries and museums both nationally and across the world.

These painters all had different career trajectories, but their work has constantly developed and continues to evolve over time. We are grateful for their support and participation.

What also makes these two exhibitions special is that many of the younger artists in Part I of Back to the Future were befriended, mentored, and given crucial support by the artists in Part II. The generosity and influence of these older painters to the next generation spans decades and is legendary.

Certainly, there are formal visual threads between the older artists and the younger artists in this two-part exhibition: the breakdown of the tropes and methodologies between abstraction and figuration and the use of non-conventional materials in a more inclusive, non-linear, non-Modernist mash-up are among the most readily apparent of these threads. But ultimately, the commonality between these two generations is that each created their own communities (and now a shared community between generations) built on authentic and uncompromising love of painting, the life it creates, the process of personal discovery revealed through the work, and the commitment, sacrifice, and discipline required for its practice. This commitment has produced work of great power, beauty and originality, which simultaneously embraces the history of painting and extends that language and conversation going forward.

Part I of Back to Future will open December 12th and run through January 11th and Part II of Back to The Future will open February 20th and run through March 15th, 2015.

Michael David
November 2014