Gwenn Thomas: Pog-an-ee, Photo-emulsion on Linen 1992-1997
Thomas strips photography down to its most subtle properties—light writing on sensitive surfaces—by restricting its movement to pattern (position and occupier). Picture Mondrian and Maholy Nagy playing checkers at the intersection between image and abstraction. Now imagine a game that never ends.
– David Levi Strauss
Art Projects International is pleased to present a survey of Gwenn Thomas’ seminal, black and white, photo emulsion on linen works of the 1990s. Widely shown and written about at the time they were introduced, these works skate the territory between collage, photography and painting. Bringing together the key works created between 1992 to 1997, one of which is presented for the first time, the exhibition provides a fresh and in-depth examination of Thomas’ category defying photo-paintings.
“My photo emulsion on linen work began with collages of paper strips, corrugated plastic board and packing tape, which were then photographed and printed on photo-sensitive linen and stretched on canvas to become ‘paintings.’ By isolating grays and blacks, shadows and lights, textures and tones and going back to the very beginning of photography, the resulting play of pattern and space has a depth of field that is both described and denied. The original hand-made work is like a photographic negative, which exists only as a means to an end—the photographic print. Like Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy, the work challenges photographic conventions and at the same time is an homage to abstract painting, including Mondrian and Sonia Delaunay.”
In these photo emulsion works, the compositions may break down into bars or stripes as in Awning or, as with Untitled (Flag) and Pog-an-ee, into complex grids and equally complex arrangements of squares and circles. Obliquely titled—Zaum refers to the transrational poetry of Russian futurists; Kino, perhaps, to the works’ filmic origins; and Large Q or IZ Abstract to letter shapes visible in the work. Thomas’ process reveals her highly keyed sensitivity to value and form and depth (even to the thickness of a piece of paper); through this and her attention to intellectual precursors, the viewer observes the continuation of aesthetic and conceptual concerns that run through the modern and contemporary eras.
These photo emulsion works also point to Thomas’ color work of ten years later that uses fabric, drawing fragments and scraps of torn photographs to make pigment prints on canvas. In Untitled (Dream) of 2005, a pigment print on canvas, the stripes and grids are gone, the scraps of fabric are relegated to the side and an empty space of color is presented. This free-form, colorful suggestion of the breaking of both the grid and the laws of physics follows from Thomas’ practice of image making and her full engagement with the media of her time.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated brochure with an essay by Edward Leffingwell.
Gwenn Thomas was born in Rhode Island and currently lives and works in New York City. She studied at the Sorbonne, Paris, and graduated from the Cooper Union School of Art, New York. Recent solo exhibitions include: Exile, Berlin; Art Projects International, New York; and Yvon Lambert, New York. Her work was recently exhibited in Photo+ at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, San Antonio, TX. Her work is represented in major collections such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Chase Manhattan Bank; Saatchi Collection, London; São Schlumberger, Paris; C.A.M. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal; Progressive Art Collection; and Citigroup, New York.
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