The Christopher Stout Gallery opened in Bushwick in 2015 with, in their own words, a program of showing work that engages with current discourses on feminist, queer, anti-establishment, mystic, and provocatively sexual art production. Pursuant to this, the gallery recently mounted an exhibition of paintings by Anne Sherwood Pundyk, titled The Revolution Will Be Painted. The show is accompanied by a full-color catalogue that features, along with images of Pundyk’s studio and some paintings in process, a paean to painting created by Pudnyk and modeled on the song by Gil Scott-Heron. Her poem, consisting entirely of borrowed phrases, is both rhapsodic and theoretical, founded in a combined earthly, tangible experience of the practice of painting and a philosophical consideration of the deep implications of mark making. It reads in part: “Painting will no longer create space as a theatre / it will give space itself a theatre. / The paint will meet the surface sensuously, / In a broad, flat engagement of the palm, by fingertip daubs, / and through varieties of clawing and caressing. / Painting will always tremble, but very precisely. / There will be no difference in the world between / planning airily away from the canvas / and actually taking your brush and making the first mark. / The revolution will be painted.”
Its footnotes reference sources which include key scholars and critics such as Kirk Varnedoe, Clement Greenberg, Roberta Smith, Peter Schjeldahl, and Gilles Deleuze. Pundyk is a thinker who wants to articulate in language and in her work what makes painting continue to hold an audience’s gaze and light up a maker’s imaginative powers. She is also a feminist and cites her collaborations with other women, including performances with dancers, as central to her practice.
This is all preamble. But standing in the room with the paintings, I see intuition undergirding intelligence. I see the corona of a sun flaring out against the bleak blackness of space in “Ancestors” (2015), as if I am witnessing the first moments of the cosmos coming into being. Yet from the left of the canvas there’s an encroachment of spectral fields of color shaped like chevrons. The painting is both intuitive and remarkably self-aware. Against a field of organic forms depicting the rough and coruscating beauty of a solar event, the painter interjects — placing chevrons over organic shapes — saying to the universe “I’m here,” and makes her marks affirming that presence. In “Reine” (2015), the geometric shapes seem almost (but not quite) to form a bridge over a foreboding landscape underneath, the whole scene awash in a shower of dripping red droplets that makes the painting truly ominous. Here, the placement of these triangular planes both delineate space, distinguishing what is “’above’ from that which is ‘below,’” and also holds out the promise of keeping the viewer at little, safe distance from the chaos roiling beneath.
The exhibition catalogue shows Pundyk in her studio kneeling on the canvasses to apply paint from the sumptuous palette of colors arrayed around her. That image helps to make the point that all of this work is personal and intimate, from the hand sewn canvases, to the process of applying paint, to the conclusions she draws. Pundyk tells me that all of the work is her attempt to discover for herself again why painting was and continues to be a crucial to her aesthetics, to her comprehension of what a body is and what it can do.
The work is visually enthralling, partly because of the tension between the visual motifs of organic and geometric: the Dionysian bacchanal of nature’s uncontrollable growth and change, and the incursion of Apollonian rigor and theoretical organization; the head vying with the heart.
It is difficult to pull off this kind of abstract expressionist work, so much guided by ego and intuition, which generates work that is as often visually unappealing as it is insightful. Pundyk gives us enticing color, yes, and drama, certainly. But ultimately the painter has to build a world that makes sense to her and hope our sensibilities follow. I do. I stand in that room and feel the sensuous meeting of surface, substrate, theory, hand, and conviction.
The Revolution Will Be Painted continues at Christopher Stout Gallery (299 Meserole Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn) through May 1.