Magazine article Art Monthly

Robert Mangold: X, Plus and Frame Paintings

Magazine article Art Monthly

Robert Mangold: X, Plus and Frame Paintings

Article excerpt

* Robert Mangold: X, Plus and Frame Paintings

Parasol unit London 24 February to 8 May

The 'x', '+' and 'Frame' series are exceptional paintings in the otherwise consistent variations on monochromatic painting that Robert Mangold has pursued for over 40 years. While the majority of his paintings since the 1960s have been visually discrete, these three series of works from 1980-86 stand apart by risking a dynamism and fragmentation that is a drastic departure from that formal austerity. That after 1986 Mangold returned to exploring forms with fewer energetic elements--as if the 'x', '+' and 'Frame' works had ultimately failed to signal a new direction--raises the question of whether these series from the early 1980s should be regarded as experiments instead of breakthroughs. But even as tangential deviations, these works are engaging for their complexity and unexpected vibrancy. This exhibition at Parasol unit, surprisingly Mangold's first in a public UK gallery, and its accompanying catalogue address a relatively unexamined area in the artist's exhibition history and literature.

In the flesh, all three series depart from the industrial colour and materials typically associated with minimalist painting, including Mangold's own 'Wall' and 'Area' paintings from the 1960s which were made with commercial paint rolled or sprayed onto hardboard. By contrast, these series evidence the gesture and materiality of painting made visible not only through the light brushstrokes on stretched canvas something like the veils of colour we came to expect from Morris Louis or Mark Rothko--but also through the hand-mixed colour combinations, which are often bright pastels and acidic hues. Mangold's painterly pas de trois runs consistent through all of these works: the shape is the container, the colour the surface and the line the image.

While mathematical proportions govern the respective sizes of the conjoined canvases, their real innovation is the combination of up to four different colours in the same work. The differently sized canvases are thus nuanced by the varying perceptual depths implied by the use of different colours. Yet the inscribed line that traverses all of the canvas elements further adds to the mix by forcing everything onto the same plane. The resulting tensions between all of these elements thus animate the overall composition. While the drawn line in the 'x' and '+' paintings serves to clarify and resolve the overall shape, in the 'Frame' paintings it responds more to the structure by taking the shape of an ellipse or ovoid that is circumscribed by the edges and corners of the canvases. …

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