‘Ed Clark & Stanley Whitney. On the Path’ is an exhibition of extraordinary watercolors and dry pigment works on paper by celebrated painters – and dear friends – Ed Clark and Stanley Whitney.
Occupying the entire Southampton gallery space, this exhibition explores the two artists’ shared interest in drawing and watercolor as comprising a distinct and critical component of their respective painting practices. The pairing of their luminous works on paper will provide visitors insight into their sustained experimentations with color, form, and the seductive materiality of paint.
Clark’s works in this exhibition, spanning five decades from the 1970s to the 2010s, typify his effort to push his art beyond the picture plane with broad, meditative swaths of color evoking the environments in which they were created. Rubbing the colored pigments directly onto the surface of paper with his hands, Clark achieved degrees of intimacy and immediacy that set these works apart from his bravura large-scale paintings, which were often made with the aid of a push-broom.
Stanley Whitney’s vibrant watercolors are presented here in dialogue with Clark’s drawings. The two men were close friends, with the latter serving as a role model for the former. When asked about Clark’s influence on his practice, Whitney remarked that, ‘Ed Clark painted paintings that were full of love. I discovered his work when I moved to New York in 1968 and I thought he was the best among the older generation of artists working in the city at the time. It was important for me to meet another African American artist who was an abstract painter, someone who was on that path before me. Ed was a real inspiration to me and still is.’
Whitney is known for using a gridded layout to explore the formal possibilities of abstraction within multi-hued, shifting blocks of saturated color. Marked by loose, gestural strokes, his watercolors on view in this exhibition were made in Sagaponack during the initial months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and – like Ed Clark’s – reflect the palette and visual phenomena of the environment in which they were painted. Filled with a palpable sense of movement, they are distinct from Whitney’s oil paintings – decidedly more playful, with colors that spontaneously drip, bleed, and mix across the surface of the paper.
Born in New Orleans in 1926 and raised in Chicago, Clark emerged in the 1950s as a pioneer of the New York School. Over the course of seven decades, his experimentations with pure color, abstract form, and the seductive materiality of paint have yielded an oeuvre of remarkable originality, extending the language of American abstraction. Clark’s breakthroughs have an important place in the story of modern and contemporary art: in the late 1950s he was the first American artist credited with exhibiting a shaped canvas, an innovation that continues to reverberate today. His search for a means to breach the limitations of the conventional paintbrush led him to use a push broom to apply pigment to canvas laid out on the floor. Defying the discreet categories of gestural and hard-edged abstraction, Clark has masterfully interwoven these approaches into a unique form of expressionism.
Ed Clark & Stanley WhitneyOn the Path
On view now through 25 June 2022 at Hauser & Wirth Southampton.