Dorothy Culpepper at Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery, ChelseaJuly 8, 2010
Culpepper is opening tonight for a 2 month long solo show entitled Abstract Expressions at Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery, closing on August 28, 2010. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her work, this is your opportunity to acquaint yourselves with the extraordinary work of an extraordinary artist.
Culpepper is one of the few remaining living artists who trained with Jackson Pollock. That doesn’t mean she echoes Pollock’s work. She has her own voice, and a resounding voice it is too.
At almost 80, she continues to stretch herself. Two years ago, she asked “Do you think I’m still growing as an artist?” Two years ago, the answer was yes.
Last year, I wasn’t so sure. While the works she showed were very large (still growing, in one sense of the word), they were tired and not so original as those of the year before. This year, she’s more than made up for last year’s ho-hums. They are vibrant and intriguing, like Culpepper herself.
Having known Culpepper for about 5 years, I’ve seen her work evolve. When we first met her, Culpepper’s husband had recently died. Her work was all about darkness and pain. Her paintings that year (which she called collages because of the nails, tacks and miscellaneous hardware embedded in the paint) were overlapping eddies of dark reds, blues and greens spattered with hard materials. The work was all dense, compact and fairly small.
The next year, Culpepper’s work was in transition. There were still collages and some of it was swirling, dark and dense, but other pieces were vibrant and joyful.
Two pieces come to mind as examples. The dark piece was built up in many colors from a core opening, with layer after layer going round and round to the edge of the canvas. When you look at the painting, you feel that you’re diving into a journey to some place you haven’t imagined.
The other is two large color splats which are then treated to Culpeper’s masterful array of painting technique, resulting in an explosion of laughter.
After seeing these, Montserrat Coll showed us a painting from an earlier period in Culpepper’s career – it too was a joyous mélange, and it included hardware set in paint. So you can see the evolution of her technique.
The third year, Culpepper brought paintings in a style reminiscent of raindrops and drips. Her color palette bright and clear but, as always, she pushed her palette, adding eggplant, and a great deal of white. The result was buoyant. It was hard to choose a favorite..
Last year’s exploration was more about size than technique. She used color blocks but overlaid them with splashes and drizzles. I think she was bored- but that’s just me. (Maybe I’m the only one who wishes that artists didn’t always want to create mammoth works. How many of us have walls that size? Do we want everything to end up in a corporate collection or museum? Can we afford what they’re asking?)
So I was delighted to see this year’s show. This is Culpepper’s most original work and most clearly in her own voice with no homage to anyone. Her color palette ranges from demure to vibrant. She’s used metallics to add a level of interest. The paintings are fairly small. And they’re simply wonderful.
Culpepper delights in painting. She says she feels like a little girl when she paints. Since her technique involves throwing paint, splashing paint, dripping paint and making a general mess of herself, I can see why. Good for her.
I can’t wait for next year’s show. But I covet all of this years paintings.