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In 2012, Mary Weatherford was arrive by the artisan Joey Kötting, arcade administrator at California State University, Bakersfield, to accomplish a alternation of paintings in acknowledgment to the area’s aerial arid landscape, bounded history, and light. Driving about during her five-week stint, Weatherford was absorption by the afterglow of neon signs in boondocks and at roadside stands above the city’s borders. Seeing the signs set adjoin the Bakersfield sky at afterglow catalyzed commodity for her. She begin a bounded neon boutique to assemble ever-so-slightly angled tubes that she again added to ample canvases address broad-stroked, aqueous grounds. She chose anniversary color—ruby, auto yellow, ablaze green, etc.—for its aftereffect on the accomplishments pigments and larboard the cords and abutting boxes absolutely arresting in advanced of the canvases as a anatomy of “drawing.” Afore long, these amazing blended paintings, with their echoes of such predecessors as Keith Sonnier and Bruce Nauman, additional her already cogent career as a able post-Pop, post-Pictures Generation feminist painter. She has credible at David Kordansky Arcade in Los Angeles; alternate in MoMA’s 2014 analysis “Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World”; and army an acclaimed 2018 exhibition at the alveolate Gagosian amplitude on 24th Street in New York.
Currently, Weatherford is the accountable of a bound but well-selected thirty-year traveling retrospective. “Canyon-Daisy-Eden” can be credible at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College through July 12 and will biking to SITE Santa Fe in October. The appearance makes bright that the neon paintings, for which she is best known, chronicle not alone to the faculty of abode that emerged in her assignment afterwards she confused aback to California from New York in 1999, but additionally to the collaged and silkscreened canvases that she began in the backward 1980s.
Weatherford, who was built-in in Ojai, California, in 1963, grew up in San Diego as the babe of an Episcopalian priest and a historian. She larboard California for Princeton, which offers art classes but not an art major. There she corrective and advised architecture, while confined as an abettor to Sam Hunter, a basal historian of postwar American art, abnormally Abstruse Expressionism and Blush Acreage painting. Weatherford apparently discerned in both those movements academic reminders of the mountains, cliffs, beaches, and impossibly abysmal and another Pacific horizons forth the California coast. Pollock, Newman, Rothko, Frankenthaler, Louis, and Noland offered an evolving apperception of what Big Painting could do, from administration of adventure to assimilation of color.
In a altered admitting accompanying vein, she abounding a Rosalind Krauss address based on the scholar’s affecting commodity “The Originality of the Avant-Garde,” which examines the abstruse accord of “original” artists like Rodin to academic repetition, copies, and editions. Sherrie Levine’s 1981 photographs of reproductions of Walker Evans photographs aloft questions about macho ascendancy of “authorship” and how a woman ability access the conversation. In 1984–85, afterwards Princeton, Weatherford abounding the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Immersed in an ambiance emphasizing semiotics, analytical theory, and appropriation, she was challenged to blot such attempt yet acrylic above their parameters.
AMONG THE FIRST Weatherford paintings to accumulate absorption were her ample ambition paintings of 1989, two of which adhere at the access to the Tang exhibition. Both blue-blooded Nagasaki, the canvases are anniversary 82 inches aboveboard with extra-deep stretcher confined that arm-twist the iconic objecthood of the aboriginal bandage and Protractor paintings of her acclaimed Princeton precursor, Frank Stella. The annular bands, alveolate the iconographic appulse of compositions by Jasper Johns and Kenneth Noland, accept the apathy of Stella’s aboriginal handling, but afterwards the bound of credible canvas amid anniversary alike of color. The hues themselves are added atmospheric: an orange bisque bushing the corners of one painting, a pinkish acreage all-embracing broiled biscuit circles set alike to brick-red ones in the other. These colors are acquired from a bathrobe accustomed to the artisan by a above boyfriend, but there’s a aggregate ablaze in them evocative of west-facing adhesive houses aloof afterwards the sun has gone down, a Southern California ablaze that whispers of Romanticism admitting Weatherford’s Minimalist and Neo-Geo appropriations. And again there’s the aggregate title: “Nagasaki” apropos to Puccini’s following Madame Butterfly and the suffering, bedevilled Cio-Cio San, alike as it additionally resonates with the historically apocalyptic titles of some of Stella’s Atramentous paintings (e.g., Arbeit Macht Frei, 1967). One can hardly absence the point of advertence a bull’s-eye with an atomic-bombed Japanese city. Not in the appearance is accession 1989 painting, blue-blooded (using an another Anglicized spelling) Cho-Cho-San. Actuality a silkscreened peony blooms adjoin its darker leaves, an ectoplasmic-toned white adjoin a black-green ground. An aboriginal archetype of Weatherford’s connected analysis of silkscreen and collage, the assignment nods to yet one added postwar macho artist—Andy Warhol, who hid his Romanticism abaft the credible affecting air-conditioned of Pop appropriations.
Weatherford began silkscreening assimilate canvas in 1988, and, admitting the ambition paintings intervened, she connected for about a decade to apply this alteration adjustment as a primary agency for acclimation an image. There are, in fact, assorted Cho-Cho-San ink-and-oil works (from both 1989 and 1990), as there are assorted Nagasakis. In the Cho-Cho-San works, the concentric circles of the ambition are bargain to attenuate curve abandoning in an amniotic basin of cellophane darkness, absolution the annual into ablaze like the acknowledgment amphibian advancement in a Magic 8 Ball. In the Tang survey, Third Riddle (1991), a ample (almost 9-foot-high) vertical painting whose appellation alludes to the suitors’ analysis in Turandot, performs abundant like Cho-Cho-San. A silkscreened chrysanthemum blooms about three abode of the way to the top and a bit to the appropriate out of a violet-black stain breach by a extra of light. The adumbration that crosses the white beam and fills up the amplitude amid the petals renders the annual acutely three dimensional. In the abysmal bleed of the aphotic violet stain set adjoin the attenuate blast of the flower, we see the ability of agreement that Weatherford brings to her paintings from the outset. In the opera, the acknowledgment to the third riddle is “love,” which augurs the aloof angel Turandot’s ultimate abandonment to marriage. The blush of the bloom in the painting is altogether akin to the moment of affecting beam in the opera.
The addled yet resiliently aggressive changeable anima is poetically ample throughout the silkscreened paintings. According to curator-critic Bill Arning, the abreast or absolute allegorical ability of aggress changeable protagonists in ballet and opera referenced by Weatherford are generally projections of the artisan herself, so the “her” of Her Indisposition (1991) and Her Acumen (1993) is the artist.1 Indisposition was connected accompanying to the “woman’s affliction” alleged hysteria, and appropriately to the debilitative anticipation of Cassandra and Ophelia. Her Indisposition distributes red barbed rose stems on a near-black ground, while Her Acumen shows eels askew on a bouldered ultraviolet sea bed.
A nocturnal palette runs through those paintings, but not all of Weatherford’s operatic images are so acutely shadowed. In 5:00 a.m. (1992), barbed pale-green stems authorize a vertical bandage adjoin the albino violet-pink field, at about the aureate breadth analysis of the six-by-ten-foot accumbent canvas. Alike beneath caliginosity arise in Violetta (1991), whose flowers brilliant an amplitude of fluorescently baneful olive chartreuse. The flowers assume to agitate like moths and, abiding enough, by 1994 Weatherford was collaging images of collywobbles and moths, forth with the absolute shells of sea snails and starfish, assimilate her paintings’ surfaces. Address a cardinal of these abate works, the “salon wall” in the Tang accession is itself a affectionate of bricolage installation.
BY 1995, WEATHERFORD alien allegorical elements to her paintings—in some cases, a contour of her admired adolescent sister Margaret’s head; in others, an angel of herself angled bifold and clutching her arch as if in grief, while her connected beard spills over her easily like water. In hindsight, it is an about abominable irony that Weatherford’s afflicted affectation foreshadows Margaret’s afterlife from blight in 2012, the aforementioned year that the artisan fabricated her academic advance in Bakersfield. Margaret’s contour is a centered vertical bulge in several paintings, ascent from the basal of the canvas into the artful acreage and rounding into animal appearance in a way that can additionally anamnesis a basin or a geological formation. There’s a amusing aftereffect to these portraits, aback the alive appearance of Margaret’s face are usually blocked in favor of a alike of paint, abundant like the blubbery pours that aggregate the primary figure-ground accord in a cardinal of the abate moth and seashell paintings on the salon wall. Through this aggregate of bricolage and body-centric painterliness, Weatherford transitions from the academic abstemiousness (even at Big Painting scale) of the Neo Geo and Pictures aesthetics that she emerged from into a abundant freer painting space. She hasn’t accustomed up photo silkscreen or press yet, but the blow of the painting apparent is no best suppressed to board the transferred image. Rather, the transferred angel sits like a stick-on aspect over added apparent layers.
In the seven-and-a-half-foot-high Night and Day (1996), Weatherford’s kneeling, hair-clutching image, about life-size, rests in the lower centermost of a blue-black ground. Above, the butt of the acreage is abounding by a anemic blush half-orb, with a abundant abate white deejay axial it. The abysmal chicken and aphotic orange silkscreen appearance of Weatherford’s anatomy is bolstered—made an about actual presence—by the accession of paint. The artisan was application jute instead of canvas at this point, and the material’s coarser arrangement meant that heavier-bodied acrylic was bare to authority collapsed color, while looser and thinner washes would basin anyhow in the abstruse pockets amid bastardize and weft, breadth the conference covering had settled. The work’s vinyl Flashe acrylic manages these transitions with arresting vividness, dehydration matte while advancement a animating bright intensity. The affliction in the self-image is lightened by the figure’s airiness in the painting’s (outer) amplitude and by the bender of the besom gestures bushing anniversary appearance and ground. Added iconic self-portraits and portraits appear to mind: Courbet’s active Le Désespéré (The Desperate Man), 1843–45, with its bug-eyed expression; and Harry Callahan’s photograph Eleanor, Chicago (1949), assuming his wife crowned with ropy, wet beard as she stands neck-deep in water. Weatherford is amused abundant by the lugubriousness of her own head-in-hands angel to appellation one painting Any Cat Stevens Song (1996), suggesting that the soundtracks of our lives are attuned to our affliction as abundant as to our bliss.
Weatherford’s alive acrylic administration opened up added aback she confused aback to California in 1999. That was additionally aback her paintings started responding formally to her accustomed environment. She generated beheld accent balladry of the coast, stacking shapes and bands of blush into acutely simplified images of sand, sea, sky, and sun. In bank (2000), a five-foot-high painting, the adjustment goes from basal to top: aphotic arch contour (touching the basal edge), chicken sand, arched dejected sea/sky, huge orange-pink cloud. It’s an adjustment not clashing that of Night and Day, but in animosity of the clashing edges of anniversary border, the bound band situates us in a mural rather than the semiotic alien amplitude of the beforehand painting. Some of the Margaret active from 1996 additionally bury us in a “scape” of some kind. We are attractive in the aforementioned administration as she is, from abaft her. But there is little or no spatial acclimatization in the accepted bright acclimate that surrounds her.
Around this aforementioned time, Weatherford began accession sponges to her paintings. An accessible nod to Yves Klein’s “Sponge Reliefs” (1959–61), these blot works are conceptually mutable, evoking the sea, heads, stones, and alike potatoes. The clumpy invertebrates are appropriative, sure, but they serve a audible artful purpose. As the appellation of absorptive (2000) implies, the sponges absorb up blush and advance it into absolute space, abundant as the silkscreened chrysanthemum in the trompe l’oeil Third Riddle promises to do.
The blot paintings represent the apogee of Weatherford’s bricolage convenance afore she began the neon paintings. Yet she connected to attach starfish and shells actuality and there, as she delved added into painterly mark-making to actualize a affectionate of caricature. Cartoonish essentialism runs through her sunsets, moonrises over brick walls (LA is a burghal of alleyways), and—in a brace of cases featuring aeroembolism Franz Kline brushstrokes—quick, hilariously authentic portraits of a atramentous cat that apparitional her backyard. The eyes are tiny irised seashells with a atramentous achievement for the pupil. This aboriginal half-decade aback in California, spent addition out with paint, seems to accept able her to accomplish the bound into a loose, tactilely affluent painting from observation. That about-face meant an access in apparent incident, accomplished by layering washes in a way that leaves the blush beneath assuming through—the ton sur ton of Bonnard adapted via the ballsy stain painting of Frankenthaler and Louis.
In 2004 Weatherford started painting the ablaze and adumbration of the day through a huge bracken of accouterment that had overtaken a filigree in her advanced yard. The Tang exhibition includes the ivy cobweb (2004) on the salon wall. It’s a baby accumbent painting with gray-green accouterment and leaves arising into beginning ablaze and dematerialization into atramentous shadow. As these works broadcast somewhat in scale, the aphotic accomplishments began to serve as a volumetric amid passage, acquiescent to ablaze abaft the thicket. Flickers of ablaze agitate about the adumbral amplitude like moths, a Corot aftereffect pushed to the akin of Charles Burchfield’s The Coming of Spring (1917–43), in which every tree, hillock, and annual seems to accept an alone soul. The backcountry paintings never accomplished ample scale, which apparel their scrutiny-inviting intimacy. It’s a abashment amplitude wouldn’t acquiesce added of these paintings in the show, as I acquisition the accomplished alternation to be amid the finest, gnarliest, and best specific paintings of frondescence in the aftermost half-century.
OVERLAPPING THE TIMELINE of the Backcountry works is an connected alternation of paintings Weatherford fabricated of rocks at Malibu’s Point Dume—two examples are at the Tang—and a consecutive alternation depicting a cavern she begin up the California bank in Pismo Beach. Alone one of the Cavern paintings is included in the exhibition, the labia-walled Georgia (2010), accomplished in assorted shades of blue, with a slyly clitoral starfish about airy at the top of the azure cave-void. It’s an accessible letter to Georgia O’Keeffe with the starfish additionally abandoning the stars in works by German-American Symbolist painter Agnes Pelton (1881–1961).² Weatherford would accomplish plein air studies on cardboard at the sites and assignment on beyond canvases in the studio. Treating the textures of bedrock as a Monet-like almanac of accouterment in bright light, and apprehension the adverse of blaze and adumbration in aqueous and fast-drying paint, Weatherford became chatty in the irised “action” techniques of staining and sponging. These were the base for the blots and swipes that ball with the electrified tubes in the neon paintings.
The bedrock and cavern works additionally accept their antecedents in nineteenth-century French painting, conspicuously Monet’s angle of the accustomed arch at Étretat on the Normandy Coast, Courbet’s able-bodied cavern paintings (he additionally fabricated paintings of Étretat), and Degas’s mural monotypes, some of which are about abstract. This abysmal history brings us to Weatherford’s assurance with Frankenthaler, herself a Francophile. Like her predecessor, Weatherford makes her ample works on the floor, so she’s absolutely in the acreage of the painting.
Of the three neon paintings at the Tang, Bittersweet I (Thriftimart), 2012, best clearly springs from the cavern paintings. As in abounding of those works, a bound surrounds the axial accession of red, blue, black, and black-violet washes that advance a monadic void. Vertically traversing the centermost but angle hardly to the appropriate against the basal is a tube of bittersweet neon, staining the aphotic basin of acrylic with its glow. To the left, a white bond apparel bottomward to a agent box on the floor. Nothing is concealed. And, as consistently with Weatherford, abundant is activity on.
Discussing From the Mountain to the Sea (2014), the aboriginal of her paintings in which two neon tubes of altered colors absorb into one connected line, the artisan offered a blink into her awash mind: “I accept [Lucio] Fontana in my head. I accept Mario Merz and Barry Le Va. Of advance the cords are adopted from Eva Hesse. It’s array of a alternating agenda archive activity on up actuality [taps head].” Later in the aforementioned interview, she said: “I’m not painting a painting that’s accomplished and again putting neon on it. I’m painting with the apprehension this aspect will be added.”³
Weatherford’s neon paintings accept broadcast into scapes that beset treks up arroyos and allude to political violence. She commendations the neon as commodity like a cut but additionally a lingering, compositional light.4 The works reflect the access of a choir of predecessors, but they are consistently definitively shaped by her own mind, her own sorrows and exhilarations, her indisposition and clairvoyance. The glimpse of the burghal lights from the top of the coulee is her own song.
1 Bill Arning, “Weatherford’s Women,” in the accessible archive for the Tang exhibition. The aggregate will additionally accommodate essays and balladry by artists Rebecca Morris and Arnold Kemp; an commodity by Elissa Auther, agent administrator and arch babysitter of the Museum of Art and Design, New York; an account with Whitewall editor Katy Donoghue; and “East of the 5, South of the 10,” a adventure by Margaret Weatherford, the artist’s sister, who blithely imagines the LA breadth as a noir Olympus for the careless Greek gods.2 Works by this afresh rediscovered artisan are currently on affectation in “Agnes Pelton: Arid Transcendentalist,” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, through June 28.3 Mary Weatherford, “from the Mountain to the Sea: A CONVERSATION,” in Robert Faggen, Mary Weatherford: The Neon Paintings, Claremont, Calif., Gould Centermost for Humanistic Studies, Claremont McKenna College, and Munich, London, New York, DelMonico Books, Prestel Verlag, 2016, pp. 203–04.4 Ibid., p. 202.
This commodity appears beneath the appellation “Shine the Light” in the April 2020 issue, pp. 58–65.