Art Insider: These Pseudo-Cubist works stitch together ‘failed’ paintings

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This week’s art picks include an artist who gives failed paintings a new life as stitched-up pseudo-Cubist forms; a new design-focused gallery lights up Chinatown; and paintings that use palindromes to create stunning patterns. 

Kate Barbee at Kohn Gallery

Kate Barbee, “Blue Moon,” 2020. Oil paint, cold wax, quilted pieces, embroidery string, and oil pastels on canvas 60 x 50 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Kohn Gallery.

A new exhibition of paintings by Kate Barbee abandons the precious sanctity of the canvas. In rosy paintings, figures swirl and mingle, limbs jut out at impossible angles. Just as her figures are deconstructed in a pseudo-Cubist style, her paintings too are cut apart and then stitched back together. The artist approaches each new work with a bevy of older “failed paintings” that she repurposes into her new compositions, cutting each piece along the silhouette of each painted head or potted plant. With embroidery thread, Barbee sutures old onto new, collapsing imagery to create textural tapestries. The embroidery thread encircling each painting scrap is applied in neat rows, creating dashed patterning across each painting that draws the eye in and out of Barbee’s lush painted scenes. During this very, ahem, domestic-focused year, many of us have become all too familiar with our own inhabited spaces and much of Barbee’s paintings focus on domestic space — house plants and plush couches mill about her floating figures. In the largest work in the show, “Nesting” an interior life plays out across the canvas, with little scenes quilted together to build into a narrative tableau. Various rooms of a house are depicted along with a female figure lounging within warm hues and floral details. “I’ve started to really notice my chairs and daydream about architecture, occupying my nest,” Barbee told me. 

Kate Barbee, “Gamay,” 2020. Oil paint, cold wax, quilted pieces, embroidery string, and oil pastels on canvas. 55 1/4 x 45 ½ inches.  Image courtesy of the artist and Kohn Gallery.

I asked Barbee about her process of repurposing old paintings. She explained that the process begins with “a canvas that will be a painting, a canvas that is meant for a freehanded study, and then a bad painting that never makes on its own.” She said that while sometimes these “bad paintings” are made intentionally, for repurposing into a larger work, she also has found “new energy and creativity from propelling these ‘mistake’ paintings into something new. I don’t let go in the sense of throwing something away, but I am able to cut and reimagine freely to keep my mind open.” As she begins a new work, Barbee often consults her own surroundings, pulling imagery from iPhone photos or books. “Writing in my journal every day is a documentary of the emotion and minutia of my world… As the bard of my little world, what I end up showing is the highlights and feelings more than historical accuracy and deflated reality.” She describes her journals, phone pictures, and painting scraps as “wet paint, half-formed palates I can piece together to fill out the vision.” 

On view: February 5–March 25, 2021

Bennet Schlesinger and Sara French at Stanley’s

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Bennet Schlesinger and Sara French at Stanley’s. Image courtesy of Stanley's. Photo by  Victor Prieto. 

A new gallery in Chinatown has lit up Chung King Road, literally. In their second show, Stanley’s has paired artists Bennet Schlesinger ceramic lamp pieces with Sara French’s papier-mache clocks. Each artist’s contribution brings innovation to utilitarian form — Schlesinger’s lamps sprout out of clean vase-like ceramic forms, their shades made with paper pulled taught around twisting bamboo frames. French’s clocks, molded into the silhouette of flowers or keyholes, are playfully exuberant — some of the clocks include shapes or symbols instead of numbers allowing for a whimsical interpretation of time. The nascent gallery will continue to have a specific focus on artists with craft-based practices and is driven to exhibit work that has often been ignored in the contemporary art world. The gallerist told me in an email that “furniture, lamps, stuffed animals, and toys” might share space with more traditional art mediums like sculpture and painting. In line with this philosophy, Schlesinger and French prove that the utilitarian objects that we interact with daily can be whimsically sculptural, closing the fraught gap between art and design. 

On view: January 31–March 1, 2021 

Xylor Jane at Parrasch Heijnen

Xylor Jane, “Dissent (26 Nesting Prime Palindromes),” 2020. Graphite and oil on panel, 23 ¾ x 31 3/4 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Parrasch Heijnen.

The year 2020 included a global palindrome that hadn’t numerically occurred since the year 1111. That date, 02/02/2020, spelled out the same forward and backward, and other lingual and numerical patterns form the basis for mark making in Xylor Jane’s new exhibition at Parrasch Heijnen. Through meticulous measuring, counting, and layering, Jane’s hand-painted geometrics form beguiling patterns created by simply following the artist’s set of rules for each painting. Her paintings are made up of a series of dots that often culminate into tessellating fields, each following their own logic — some following the sequencing of prime numbers as a guide to her mark making and others take more surprising patterns as a starting place. “Moon Dragon,” a snake-skin-like pattern made up of tonal gray dots painted into a grid, is actually informed by the names of various cats that the artist has adopted. In the painting, the letters of their names —“Sprinkles,” “Apple,” “Crouton” — are each assigned a shade of gray, and applied in sequence across each row of the painting. In “Dissent (26 Nesting Prime Palindromes),” Jane carefully grids out a set of expanding palindromes — 3 2 3 for instance — in stacked rows to create an inverted triangular pattern that the artist noted resembles the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s white “dissent” collar. The careful steady hand of Jane’s paint application, though near perfect, allows for subtle imperfections, allowing humanity to seep through her robotic compositions. Through her exacting systems, Jane allows for sublime patterns to emerge, creating beauty and phenomenon out of everyday numerical structures.

On view: February 5 – March 26, 2021

Simphiwe Ndzube’s Fantastical Realm

Simphiwe Ndzube, “Bhekizwe, The Alligator Rider” (2020). Acrylic, collage, duct tape, and fabric on canvas. 59 x 102.25 x 2.5 in. Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Courtesy of the artist and Nicodim Gallery.

This week, a new show by L.A. based South African artist Simphiwe Ndzube opens at Nicodim Gallery. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ndzube on a new episode of The Carla Podcast where we discussed the artist’s Magical Realist style that blends past experiences with fantasy. Ndzube follows his inner child as an intuitive guide to his art making which blends sculpture, painting, and assemblage. This week I talked to Steve Chiotakis about Ndzube’s work and what to expect in the new show, “Like the Snake that Fed the Chameleon,” opening on February 13. 

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