Sperone Westwater is pleased to present “Chromatics,” a two-person exhibition featuring artworks by Otto Piene and Kevin Umaña. Linked by their attention to materiality, surface and sensations of light and color phenomena, both artists embrace an interplay between the geometric and the organic, as well as the planned execution of process combined with chance and spontaneity.
For Otto Piene, co-founder of the ZERO group in 1957, light was a primary source of inspiration, and his experimentation with non-traditional materials and kinetic and technology-based art reflect the group’s rejection of psychological expressionism prevalent in post-war German art. Initiated the same year, his series of Rasterbilder (screen pictures) gives optical effects physical form. Pressing paint through a perforated screen to create a low relief of paint dots produced what the artist called a “force field,” eliciting a strong visual sense of light vibration. Piene would later project light through the stencils of his raster paintings to create moving projections in his Light Ballet works and employ fire to destabilize and reconfigure energy on a painted surface, as in Vanish and Reappear, 1957/1989. Between 2010 and 2014 Piene created this selection of ceramic works, which he called “heavy pictures.” Executed towards the end of his storied career, these works continue an early and ongoing interest in the tension between mechanization, pressing glaze through a perforated screen, and serendipity. The glazes transform during the firing process, forming glassy hemispheres that sometimes run together on the matte surface of the clay, highlighting the contrast between materials and animating the surface with reflected and absorbed light. The sensation of energy is central to Piene’s work, whether produced through projected light, remnants of flames or textured patterning.
Kevin Umaña’s early work focused on geometric paintings, which were later transcribed onto his clay tablet works, slabs of clay rolled and cut out in irregular shapes, creating an arresting dialog between hard and soft edges. His recent hybrid paintings depart from these by fracturing the tablets into fragments arranged upon and adhered to canvas on shaped panel, combining the two mediums. Umaña unites the fragments and canvas with glazed and painted passages that carry the color scheme across the surface, which is further delineated by various painting techniques. Staining, brushing and building up sculpted and cracked mixtures of paint, the artist playfully experiments with the possibilities of the medium. Contrasting vibrant glazes and matte surfaces, Umaña creates a stark visual field that absorbs and projects light.
Inspired by the landscape and a period of personal introspection and material experimentation during his 2023 residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana, Umaña’s most recent tablets, vessels and hybrid paintings reflect an evolving interest in form, composition and color. Umaña says: “Being present with nature, finely tuned to moments that take your breath away, coincidences, and surprises, these are all opportunities to trust your gut, leaning into feeling more than intellect. Most of the titles of the vessels are about trying to figure out my direction in life and trying to make the best of dark times. The discovery of the new techniques, experimenting with glazes, washes, clay slips, and surface techniques has stimulated a new fascination in my works.”
The gallery will host a closing reception on December 14th from 5 – 7 PM.