Gregory Amenoff has discovered a new decisiveness. He generated his previous paintings improvisationally, arriving at images directly through the process of painting. In contrast, Amenoff’s new large-scale canvases are based on small pencil studies, which he made during a trip to Paris in the summer of 2012. “I was staying in a nice apartment so I couldn’t paint–I’m a sloppy painter. I bought a couple hundred colored pencils and some fairly hard paper, and I decided to develop some new images,” Amenoff told me. “For the first time in two years I was really excited by the images.”
Gregory Amenoff, Polaris, 2012, oil on canvas, 66 x 60 inches.
While in Paris, Amenoff also saw “Dream and Reality,” a Symbolist exhibition at the Musee D’Orsay that included work by Gustave Moreau, August Strindberg, and Odilon Redon. When he returned to his studio in the fall, Amenoff began the series of paintings stemming from the small pencil drawings. “Translating the small colored pencil studies to a larger size onto canvas was a big challenge,” says Amenoff. “I lost several that just weren’t good enough–they didn’t have the right surfaces–and the color changed a lot as well.”
Amenoff’s paintings have always been informed by the brooding landscapes of early twentieth century painters such as Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove, but this new work, which features a highly saturated palette, luxurious surfaces, exuberant light effects, and unapologetically theatrical space, has a deeper connection with the Symbolist work he saw in Paris. In the press release for the 2012 French exhibition, the curator writes:
the 19th century artist had to reconcile a desire to live in the contemporary world, accepting the realities of industrialisation and new working conditions, with a desire for an “elsewhere” drawn from mythology, legend and ancient civilisations, or drawn from the inner world of dreams, imagination and the mind.
I suspect that Amenoff, Chair of the Visual Arts Division in the School of the Arts at Columbia, must feel a pull between the traditional idea that paintings must be “resolved” and the new focus in contemporary painting on the irresolute. The results are triumphantly operatic.
Gregory Amenoff, Rising, 2012, oil on canvas, 82 x 76 inches.
Gregory Amenoff, Trace, 2012, oil on canvas, 64 x 62 inches.