Contributed by Sharon Butler / I used to think about beginnings, doubt, and irresolution. Lately, though, in my own work and that of other painters, I’ve come to appreciate more rather than less paint on the canvas. It appears that Michael Krebber, now painting in oil, has evolved in a similar direction. In his eighth show at Greene Naftali, two large diptychs, Doll in Pink and La Poupe, look to question his once emphatic emptiness, manifesting more pronounced back-and-forth between layers, edges, shapes and color, more varied brushwork, and, overall, a more intense engagement with paint and brushwork.
Pale pink seems to have captured Krebber’s imagination. A delicate tint of a Pepto-Bismol hue graces each of his new paintings, particularly the six smaller untitled ones. Four are rendered so thinly that, like his previous work, they flirt with non-existence, and two feature pink paint thickly slathered on with a wide brush, almost to the bottom, but not quite. A hint of a gessoed edge on one reveals the painting’s reality as a painted object, but at the same time the horizontal thrust of the unpainted section, low in the picture plane, may reference landscape imagery. The other seems more figurative, with the pink area suggesting legs, perhaps a crotch, and a haltingly painted curving outline interposed like a dick or maybe a shoe.
In the absence of specific information about the artist’s intent, I feel free not only to make interpretations about his work but also to avoid them. Yet I’m not sure we have reached a stage when we are more interested in merely looking at his paintings than we are in trying to understand the conceptual underpinnings. Krebber does provide some oblique guidance. The press release includes a poem from the diary of Michael Oppitz, a noted ethnographer of the Himalayas. Krebber apparently saw it displayed in a vitrine at the Kolumba Museum in Cologne. It goes like this:
a poem of the night:
as he rose
to the highest forms of prose
a poem crossed his head
and suddenly his prose was dead
Kathmandu, 28/12/78, 3:15 *
Clearly Krebber is thinking about how ideas come into our heads, and how one body of work — for instance, a painting — succeeds previous ones. Unlike paintings in his earlier exhibitions, each piece in this show, despite the pink unifier, seems to be a new and substantially independent outing rather than an iteration of a predetermined, repetitive process. (Remember his series of snail paintings in the 2015 show?) The large diptychs, though very different from each other, appear to have begun with the same underlying drawing, which the gallerist told me was based on an old Picabia painting.
In this show, all of Krebber’s paintings display inventive and considered brushwork and mark-making. I admire the stacks of wide, dripping brushstrokes, the scrubby crosshatches, the tender scratches, the sweeping arcs, and how he coaxes shapes from the space around them. In the diptychs, the underlayers, covered in a chalky white wash, are softly visible, revealing the narrative of Krebber’s painting decisions. Could it be that the artist, who now lives in New York, spent part of lockdown falling in love with oil painting? Could he be rethinking the old conceptual strategies that purposely distanced him from the process? Has he turned from prose to poetry? It certainly looks that way to me.
“Michael Krebber: New Work,” Greene Naftali, 508 W 26th Street, 8th Floor, New York, NY. Through January 22 2022.