The rigorous parameters that Sylvia Plimack Mangold established in her earlier bodies of work (the floor paintings and the landscapes framed by “tape”) continue to inform her paintings of individual trees (specifically the maple, elm, locust, and pink oak), which have been focus of her attention since the early 1980s. Year after year, in different seasons and subtly changing light, the artist has returned to the same handful of subjects seen from the same tightly cropped viewpoint.
Before writing about Sylvia Plimack Mangold’s shift from interiors to landscapes, I think it is useful to once again consider the floor paintings, which she worked on for about a decade, beginning in 1967. It is in these paintings that the artist defines an approach to subject matter from which she has never wavered. She will paint only what she observes, but with more rigorous parameters than simply investigating her immediate circumstances. Her subject matter will never suggest an elsewhere or material plenitude. She will make no allusions to fantasy, leisure, or social status. It is incumbent on us to reflect upon what she does and doesn’t do.
The current exhibition of paintings, watercolors, and prints by Sylvia Plimack Mangold at Alexander and Bonin (March 16–April 28, 2012) got me thinking once again about the different kinds of spaces she has constructed in her work, beginning with the tilting planes in her early paintings, such as “Floor 1” (1967), “Floor with Light at Noon” (1972), and “Two Exact Rules on a Dark and Light Floor” (1975), all done in acrylic on canvas.