With her 1979 essay, “Grids,” art historian Rosalind Krauss underlined the importance of the grid as an emblem of modernism: “Surfacing in pre-war Cubist painting and subsequently becoming ever more stringent and manifest, the grid announces, among other things, modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse.” As early as 1912, Dutch-born artist Piet Mondrian created his first “compositions,” formed by grids of strict vertical
and horizontal black lines, with precisely chosen fields filled with the three primary colors to find balance. In Russia, Suprematist artists such as Kazimir Malevich viewed the grid as not only a formal tool, but also as an ideological device to explore the role of art in the life of the working class and society.
The use of the grid continued over the course of the century, as the painter Agnes Martin drew thin lines across her canvases as systems of de ned space to communicate the calm inspiration of the New Mexico landscape. Other artists such as Sol LeWitt also implemented the grid as a fundamental component of his work, as he drew directly onto walls with a pared down format completely devoid of representation. These wall drawings led to projects with precisely de ned mathematical instructions for other artists to complete, so that LeWitt’s hand did not touch the artwork, and his sculptures expanded the grid into manifestations of three-dimensional form. Minimalists Carl Andre and Donald Judd took the basis of the grid and modified it for their own ends. Whereas Andre laid his metal square forms into geometric patterns on the floor, Judd experimented with the grid and its possible variations of design and form as a way to better understand interaction with light and space.
Today artists have continued to re-interpret the grid and adapt it to create a wide array of new forms. THE GRID: order in a disordered world presents the work of four artists from different parts of the world, all united in their use of geometric pattern and repetition of form. The paintings of Ghana-born artist Atta Kwami (who also lives in England) are influenced a great deal by the visual experiences he has had throughout his life. The play of shapes and colors recall architectural forms and textiles:
I would describe it as schematic; like a map, or rather a reaction to or interpretation of a map. It is about ownership, a way to finding myself, where I am. In that sense my work enhances a viewing of Kumasi and Ghana, where the sign painting workshops and rich textile traditions have engaged my attention. My passion lies in making... I have focused on color as subject matter, perhaps taking me back to what I started with as a child; my mother’s paints and her textiles were good resources. In recent works, I have pursued the use of the imaginary grid as a matrix for emotion. This structure is a smokescreen within which to create something new. Working in different places requires an ever-present preparedness to take the work wherever it demands to go. Wherever I go I take my world with me...
Moving from the celebration of vibrant color in the works of Kwami and Dunlap, the exhibition also concentrates on work with a monochromatic clarity, specifically in the paintings of Bavarian- born artist Laszlo Thorsen-Nagel, who now lives and works in Marfa. Inspired by the abstract modernist aesthetic of both his grandfather and father, Thorsen-Nagel developed his zen-like minimal language through painting with sumi-e brush strokes on paper, canvas and clay board. Through tight grids, Thorsen-Nagel plays with line and space through a disciplined preparation of materials for his practice in which he binds his own brushes and adjusts the saturation of inks with water. The resulting paintings provide still, meditative experiences for both the artist and viewer alike.
In his own unique process and use of materials, Houston artist now living in Prague, Brandon Araujo drapes his paintings with Kapton tape, a thermal insulation material used on spacecrafts. By binding the material over the surfaces of his canvases, Araujo plays off the strictness of the grid’s lines through a sense of layered, sometimes distressed surface. At times reading as thin layers of skin-like coverings, the material allows for an eerie play of light, which also pulls away from the tight organization of the grid. Like Malevich or Rothko, areas of floating amber color within the paintings look ethereal (sometimes even metallic) from specific angles. Araujo’s use of flaked paint under the Kapton material leaves a rough, ragged surface that provides a more visceral contrast to the other work in the exhibition.
While the grid serves as the organizing theme of the exhibition, it is best seen as a point of departure for appreciating the artists’ paths into their own visual worlds. A sense of continuity from the artists’ work into our own daily experience of the grid is truly everywhere, as our city street grids and digital, pixelated lives speak about our ongoing connection with it. While the grid may connect a lot of dots and data points to provide order in our world, it can also lead us off the map into unexplored territory.