Beate Wheeler / The 1970s: Transition to Color Painting
David Richard Gallery, New York
Mon 18 May 2020 to Fri 19 Jun 2020
David Richard Gallery presents its first solo exhibition of paintings by Beate Wheeler (1932 – 2017). The presentation includes 13 paintings that focus on her studio work leading up to and through the 1970s, an important and transitional decade in her career. The presentation chronicles a shift in her formal approach that had been brewing back in the 1960s, as well as a change in her color palettes and compositions that became more evocative of nature and gardens. During the 70s, Wheeler transitioned from her Abstract Expressionist “mark making” to more vibrant “color painting”, which defined the remainder of her studio practice.
Throughout nearly all six decades of Wheeler’s career, her paintings were about color and form, the influences of nature, and her feelings and emotions towards these topics. One can feel her energy and passion in the thousands of intentional and individual marks of pigment, each one deliberate to create stunning arrays of color and passages of pattern, forms and abstract imagery. Wheeler made specific marks, she did not scrub the canvas in a brushy back and forth or agitated manner. She made distinct marks, echoing the profound influences on her work by Impressionistic masters with their bold use of color as well as the subtle and elegant exploration of hues in Milton Resnick’s work, with whom she studied under in the 1950s in Berkeley, California. Wheeler had an intuition about color, she understood color adjacency and the interaction of hues in compositions, how the colors could meld and from a distance mix in the viewer’s eye allowing them to see something different than when close up and dissecting each hue in their respective shapes and placements. Wheeler’s color sensibility made her paintings dynamic, vibrant, almost alive and very distinct in appearance. Hence, the strong feeling that they are derived from nature and her keen ability to observe the subtle interplay of color in the natural world.
Wheeler’s mark making was methodical and became rhythmic, which allowed distinct passages to emerge within areas of her compositions that became multiple individual foci of abstract forms. However, collectively, they created a dialogue that evoked organic forms and shapes, almost like leaves or blocks of colorful flowers that transition from one to the other effortlessly in a perennial garden.
The paintings from the early 1960s had compositions with a centrally located focus or bi-partite areas with thicker applications of impasto pigment distinct in color and palpable. The perimeters of the compositions had flatter and wider applications of paint, more atmospheric and fading to the background, thus creating distinct figure and ground relationships. In a number of paintings from the 1960s the distinct marks coalesced and became larger areas of color as opposed to distinct marks, and some with gritty textures across most of the surface that created an all over composition without a central focus. In several of the smaller paintings from the late 1960s the palettes became reduced to only 2 or 3 hues to generate elongated and curvaceous interlocking brush strokes that were nearly uniform across the canvas and creating subtle patterns. Both of these techniques essentially flattened the painting surfaces and made the compositions consistent across the canvas. Thus, reducing the forms to vessels for pigment and thereby making the color the only real distinction within her paintings.
Through the 1970s, Wheeler expanded on these developments, the forms became larger, more distinct with an organic feeling, yet the shapes were clearly non-objective and abstract. The all over compositions filled the canvases and spilled off the edges, in most cases. In many of the paintings it is clear that Wheeler reduced the detail, neutralized the colors and compressed the distance between the shapes to create a fade around the perimeter to always keep the viewer’s attention on the interiors of her paintings. It seemed as though she fixated on a specific aspect of a garden or landscape reference and expanded and increased the scale of that area so as to make it purely abstract with no specific reference, leaving only the essence of something from the natural world, a hint of something organic. While the individual marks were distinct and abstract, in the aggregate, the overall feeling of her paintings is that of a lush garden.
About Beate Wheeler (1932 – 2017):
Beate Wheeler, born in Germany in 1932, fled with her family in 1938 and arrived at Ellis Island in New York. She studied at Manumit in Pawling, New York until 1945, an experimental Christian socialist boarding school for refugee children. After receiving her BFA degree at Syracuse in 1954, Wheeler earned her MFA at the University of California, Berkeley under Abstract Expressionist painter, Milton Resnick. While in the Bay area, she met Mark di Suvero and the two moved to the East Village in New York. Together with Robert Beauchamp, Elaine de Kooning and Patricia Passlof, they formed the March Gallery, one of the eight galleries and artist cooperatives that were known as the 10th Street Galleries. Wheeler married the writer and artist Spencer Holst. They were some of the early residents at the Westbeth Artists Housing in New York’s West Village. Wheeler lived and worked there the rest of her life. She painted regularly and produced drawings and artworks for Spencer’s publications. She exhibited primarily at the Wesbeth galleries and had many dedicated private collectors, including Nelson A. Rockefeller. Following a 15-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, she passed away May 14, 2017.