Paintings from the 1980s
At a time when the validity of the Modernist canon is being questioned and reassessed, the paintings and drawings of Joan Witek are ripe for rediscovery. For decades Witek has produced a diverse array of paintings and works on paper motivated solely by the color black. “Black is, quite simply, the color of language,” Witek explained recently.
Alongside dominant figures such as Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, and her neighbor Richard Serra, Witek has been a key protagonist in the downtown New York art scene since the 1970s. She has produced highly-inventive works using her own reductive language that deliberately avoid the formal and chromatic concerns associated with much of postwar American art.
In the large-scale paintings presented in her exhibition, Witek sought a kind of purity, filling her surfaces with measured, vertical and horizontal marks laid down side by side in rows with the raw, unprimed canvas visible between those strokes. Witek’s work captivates in its variety—the play between surface, edge, luminosity, and texture.
“I wished to reconcile abstraction and feeling,” Witek once told Jonathan Caldwell, curator of her 1984 solo survey at the Carnegie Museum of Art in which many of the works on view in this exhibition were first presented. She continued, “The irony of the work…is in appearing to be simple and easily grasped visually while an ongoing language of proportion and content proceeds through each work. Each painting depends on the others for interpretation. They are a handwriting. Although the writing style is relatively uniform, each picture has a uniquely based origin in my emotions or wherever a particular painting comes from. Its themes are the art of painting, or my perceptions of the world, or the renderings of my insides.”