Art Review Archives:
William Conger: 2000-Collage Paintings
Roy Boyd Gallery
In science, there are large reference books printed with only random numbers. Humans can't produce them. People inevitably impose patterns, select, search for an order to things. When gifted artists do it, the result speaks in a voice without words: a visual harmony, a vital 'rightness.' This is a good enough reason to search out works by William Conger and Daniel Bodner. It is a reason to visit "William Conger: 2000-Collage Paintings/ Daniel Bodner: Paintings," at Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, before March 27, 2001
William Conger has been termed an 'Allusive Abstractionist.' Those playing with words have even sought 'Organic Abstractionist' to describe their sensations. Whatever the verbal orderings, much of Conger's mature work represents a fundamental, subliminal sensing of the 'ways of things.' That in itself is an achievement.
This artist started with figurative work in the 1960s, but came to draw upon his studies with Elaine de Kooning, his mentor at the University of New Mexico during the late 1950s. In the 1980s, Conger added illusionistic modeling to intersecting shapes and contours in his work. Many have been drawn to this artist by his paintings' striking, sinuous shapes and bright, glowing hues: essential forms derived from physical realities. How the artist derives that must be of interest. And when that fundamental source is itself an art form, the interest becomes twofold. The road to art, itself is art.
The artist notes that in the 1970s he began painting on "small pieces of plywood, old shelving, and other scraps." Conger, in his gallery statement, adds: "I also carved into these pieces and often attached separate elements: wood, glass, metal, paper, string, nails, just about anything handy that could be affixed to a surface." These, however, were the artist's own preserve: experiments. In the 60s, William Conger caught attention for his abstract compositions; a play of ordered shapes and asymmetric, organically inspired patternings. Conger was of interest for creating a sensibility within a world all of his own making. That vision has developed an impressive body of work. But it did have origins. Conger's collage paintings are an view into working methods.
Conger begins with irregular fragments of paper which he has painted. The artist proceeds to arrange and order these, working much like the masters of stained glass. At times, he does add final pencil or crayon marks. However, the material itself often suggests an appropriate synthesis, a cooperation between initial inspiration and the artist's medium. The resulting collages act as seeds for paintings. This approach winnows and sharpens an expressive focus. "William Conger: 2000-Collage Paintings" reveals that those kernels not only germinate a consequent body of art, but are themselves already integral artistic creations. This exhibition presents insights into Conger's aesthetic method and process, but further, it offers effective art.
Moments #216 serves as example. There is a casual rhythm to its prominent contours, but this rises out of a curvilinear and non-linear underlying grid in counterpoint with dynamic superimposed contours of black and white: two distinct orders of perception. What seems casual at hand is often calculated in the gut. It's what artists do. Conger reveals the order concealed in casual glance and chaos.
The range of work here, from Moments #205, through Moments #216, and the Moments #204, displays great variety. As well, frequently discernable surface textures, arising from mounted elements, add to the purely painted image of these works. The artist himself notes": "the shapes and compositional arrangements in these new pieces echo my more structured paintings on canvas but with intentionally obvious evidence of additive and subtractive methods. They show the history of their making."
An attentive viewer does recognize motif elements in these works; elements which in Conger's oils paintings take on a life of their own, which seem to gyrate, undulate, visually move of their own accord despite their fixed reality of paint and canvas. In the works exhibited here -- painted collages such as Moments #201, #204, #205, or #214 -- a solar icon, whether red, orange or ochre, seems to balance an abstracted array of urban architectural features. In Moments # 201, the viewer can easily imagine that the focus lies within an overcast sky, and the motif is echoed in smaller globes, much like sun dogs or secondary halos. Moments #205 resolves into a more strongly geometric scheme, one with gentle but distinct horizontals played against vertical accents, but the large ochre globe is placed 'above horizon.' In fact, this shape often seems to gravitate toward mid or upper divisions of the image, and where present, it favors warm, if not flame-like hues. Moments #204 shows a more prominent use of near black in its composition, and in a work such as Moments #219, this darkness is a dominant hue. But within many like these, an architectural sense of balance is evident, and one feels a sense of landscape in the composition. Moments #216 does stand in sharp contrast, and it seems a basic, visual type by which -- in Conger's oils on canvas -- the other investigations are interpreted: an archetype and pattern as measure for freer but more referential arrangement.
The physical cuts of painted collage work at times in harmony and at times playing against the painted elements. There is painterly freedom, disciplined by the previous, and meticulous, analysis found in Conger's paintings. They have served as method for painted work, but stand in themselves as gratifying. There is a caution here. The infrequent viewer should understand how much intent resides within this work. Conger, a highly talented draughtsman and painter, contributed a self-portrait to a recent exhibition of Chicago artists (reviewed in www.artscope.net as "Self-Portraits 2000"). That portrait was as skilled and figurative as any in past centuries. This is an artist who explores because he can, and wishes so. The artist has chosen to show "my decisions kept and covered, enhanced and obscured, often in radical contrast to the final surface arrangements and sometimes disturbingly so."
These twenty works are a development of the series of collages Conger did, beginning with 1998, although those formats were smaller, rarely over 12" by 11". The paintings and painted collages of this artist continue to fascinate. William Conger received his BFA from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (1961), and his MFA from the University of Chicago in 1966.
Currently at Roy Boyd Gallery, Conger is exhibiting with Daniel Bodner. Bodner's art is displayed in the lower level, and it should not be missed.
There is a ragged, even weathered and experienced texture to the figures in Daniel Bodner's paintings. More than one reviewer has evoked the spirit of Giacometti in describing work by this artist, but if a world-weary Turner, with perhaps a heavier brush, were to isolate and interpret the language of human form, he would have entered the domain of Bodner's images. It does no good to the general viewer or to one new to art to compare such an artist with academic formulations of art: the categories, genres... words. The art of Daniel Bodner offers its own experience. These oils on canvas are displayed in the Roy Boyd Gallery's lower rooms, in gentle light; each hung for singular attention. And the work seems to call attention to own history, as well as to its content: the artist's working method bridges both Expressionism and Impressionism. What meets the eye seems scraped, pitted, effaced: one feels the ravages of time; and the artist's own sense of drawing art from intimate reflection.
A majority of these paintings portray the solitary figure, although there are some ensemble images. The dominant palette tends toward soft blues, greys; subdued and cool color; the works employ a loose, painterly expression in brush and the molding of form. Visual focus centers about the isolated individual, walking with no apparent goal, within no distinct environment. In many works, a distant horizon is a condensed, simple band of dark shadows; nebulous and terse. In others, it is totally absent -- the lone, erect figure seems embedded in thick atmosphere.
The Existentialists loved Alberto Giacometti's sculpture: Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about it with sympathy and understanding. Sartre, who brought many ideas of Nietzsche and the Greek Stoics into French fashion, wrote much about art: he popularized that influence, and set a tone for many artistic themes. These common sensibilities set a context for Bodner's work as well. Somewhere, some artist once asserted that art is philosophy without words. Whether or not one agrees, the paintings now at Roy Boyd Gallery evoke Sartre's postulate about Man:
Bodner's work is titled by the initials of the gallery in which they were first exhibited: RB for Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago; RS for Renate Schroeder Gallery, Germany. Three paintings, RS 33, RS 21, and RS 25 (Renate Schroder Gallery) are hung as a series, and each of these portray a couple. They are together, drawn each to each, in what seems a search for warmth. But even here, the sensibility seems akin to another keen spokesman for solitary human existence, Dag Hammarskjold, a former Secretary General of the United Nations:
There are several additional works where the visitor is presented with larger groupings, but in all of Bodner's seventeen paintings here on display, there is no evidence of communication, perhaps little desire to communicate with others. Others could only veil the nakedness of a soul's solilitude. But it is not so much loneliness, in the popular sense, which informs Bodner's work, as a certain stoic separation from external veils. Hammarskjold, a sensitive observer who bore immense responsibilities, caught it in words:
Daniel Bodner's art examines, investigates, contemplates the figure in an Existentialist or Stoic state of being. At times, paintings in this showing suggest Hammarskjold's "communion closer and deeper" with human possibilities apart from personal or social contexts. They imply the debts of denial, and allude to counter-claims by the body. Bodner's art is a modern dogmatic of the body. There is a sense about the paintings, not of passive sadness, but contemplation, acceptance, at times even a resoluteness in the solitude of the individual as he moves within the world. The artist selects and posits a very specific art -- which is interpretation, whether tacitly assumed, or consciously ascribed. An interpretation without words: a philosophy. Gallery visitors will find much to engage them in the oil paintings of Daniel Bodner.
Bodner received his BS degree in painting at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Roy Boyd Gallery offers a catalogue of recent work, Daniel Bodner (Roy Boyd/Renate Schroeder: 1999) for ten dollars.
"William Conger: Painted Collages/ Daniel Bodner: Paintings" will be on display at Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, until March 27, 2001.
In addition to the gallery's website, an entry on William Conger may be found at http://www2.mmlc.nwu.edu/art/faculty/conger.html. An essay, "William Conger's Summer of Paper," by Victor M. Cassidy may be found at http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/cassidy/cassidy3-4-98.asp.
--G. Jurek Polanski
Editorial Note: Books may be purchased through this site's Barnes & Noble link. William Conger is documented in Painting at Northwestern: Conger, Paschke, Valerio (Mary and Leigh Block Gallery/Northwestern University: 1986). and in Art in Chicago: 1945-1995 (Thames and Hudson/Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: 1996). Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness is in print (Washington Square Press: 1983). Dag Hammarskjold is quoted from his Markings (Alfred A. Knopf: 1968).