Hauser & Wirth Southampton presents a focused exhibition of twelve new watercolors by Charles Gaines. Inspired by cottonwood trees he photographed on a 2022 trip to Arizona, ‘Numbers and Trees: The Arizona Watercolors’ provides an intimate encounter with the systems and processes through which the celebrated conceptual artist develops his constantly evolving ‘Numbers and Trees’ series. The trees Gaines photographed during this trip will form the basis of a new series of Plexiglas works that the artist will debut in his forthcoming solo exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum, from 10 November 2024 through 16 February 2025.
Whereas Gaines has previously produced series depicting London oak trees, palm trees and pecan trees, among other species, the Southampton watercolors are his first to represent cottonwood trees. Taking their titles from local rivers, creeks, washes and arroyos, these paintings mirror the critical nature of such waterways in creating an ecosystem where these distinctive trees can thrive. Cottonwoods, which the artist observed along the San Pedro River outside Sierra Vista AZ, generally only grow near a body of water, and are particularly noticeable in Arizona’s arid climate.
The artist’s systems, which highlight the differences between these trees, induce the viewer to assign a meaning to these differences—a meaning that is arbitrarily determined because the differences themselves are arbitrary. These works thereby call attention to our tendency to impose categories based on subjective values and suggest the arbitrary nature of other manufactured systems in our society.
Trees have been a central motif in Gaines’s distinguished practice since he first began his ‘Walnut Tree Orchard’ series in the 1970s. His methodical examination of their forms continues in this latest series, as the artist plots each cottonwood tree by assigning it a specific color and a numbered grid that reflects the full form of the tree. For each successive work, Gaines overlays the forms of trees one at a time and in progression, following his systematic sequencing process.
To celebrate the opening of ‘Numbers and Trees: The Arizona Watercolors’ on 1 July, Hauser & Wirth Southampton will host a special conversation between Gaines and Phoenix Art Museum Chief Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs and Engagement, Olga Viso.
A pivotal figure in the field of conceptual art, Charles Gaines’ body of work engages formulas and systems that interrogate relationships between the objective and the subjective realms. Using a generative approach to create a series of works in a variety of mediums, he has built a bridge between the early conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s and subsequent generations of artists pushing the limits of conceptualism today.
Charles GainesNumbers and Trees: The Arizona Watercolors
On view now through 30 July 2023 at Hauser & Wirth Southampton.