|Black and White – an
exhibition featuring the work of Al Held, Robert Mapplethorpe, Shelley
Reed and Cecil Touchon. – Sept/Oct, 2010
J. Johnson Gallery, Jacksonville Beach, FL
The second artist featured in J. Johnson Gallery’s Black and White exhibition also culls artistic inspiration from the Netherlands. Instead of the 17th century classic Dutch landscapes that Shelley Reed blends and reinvents, however, it is the early 20th century movement of Neoplasticism that influences Cecil Touchon’s collages and paintings.<>Neoplasticism, or De Stijl (“the style”), was founded in 1917 in the Netherlands. The movement focused on pure abstraction, reducing art to the essential elements of line (most often horizontal and vertical) and non-objective forms. Black, white, greys and primary colors (as in Piet Mondrian’s geometric compositions) proliferated. Neoplasticism incorporated elements of Cubism and later influenced the Bauhaus movement.
Touchon’s bold yet refined linear compositions beautifully reflect the De Stijl aesthetic. “The color schemes that I…use are intended to convey a classic, timeless feeling,” he explains. However, only a selection of the artist’s black and white paper, panel and canvas works are included in the J. Johnson Gallery exhibition.
“Cecil is a master of simplicity with a keen eye for design and efficient artistic decisions,” states Dempsey.
In art, the mention of “black and white” typically conjures images of classic photography. Dempsey notes that “Cecil’s work recalls the simple tenets of Aaron Siskind’s early photographic work,” which abstractly captured sections of signs, billboards and décollage street posters.
Touchon garners inspiration from these same advertisements. Distressed street posters find new purpose once ripped from telephone poles, dismembered, and combined with paint and graphite into fresh compositions. “Collage is my first love. I like to work with found materials. I like paper. But at the same time, I feel the need to work [on a] larger scale typical of painting.”
Scrambled billboards (expired promotions diced and jumbled in the absence of new avertisements) are reinvented on a smaller scale when Touchon slices and shuffles letters to form fragmented, elegant compositions and describes himself as a “visual poet.” Aiming to “reconstruct an abstract ‘poem’,” he frees letters from their words, enabling them to “function on a purely visual and concrete level.”
Touchon founded and directs the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage, and Construction (IMCAC) in Fort Worth, Texas and has figured significantly in the art world for over 2 decades. Astute shoppers, gamblers or travelers may spot his abstract typographic compositions on the walls of Neiman Marcus, the Bellagio, or the Carlyle Hotel. His work is included in museum collections such as London’s Tate Modern and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Although color palette (or lack thereof) blatantly connects the artists of J. Johnson Gallery’s Black and White exhibition, closer inspection reveals a stronger connection between the elements of each artist’s work. All exhibit an understanding of the complex relationship between positive and negative and display technical skill in their medium.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s stark, provocative black and white photographs display a tension and geometry reminiscent of Al Held. The figures seem weightless, just as Held’s cylinders and cubes that float through space.
Shelley Reed’s somber yet lush landscapes and the sparse abstract compositions of Cecil Touchon each display a refined tension and paradoxical ambiguity filled with arabesques. The works are carefully finished with a delicate hand.
Selected from Arbus
Magazine, September/October 2010
J. Johnson Gallery launches their ninth season with Black and White, an exhibition featuring the work of Al Held, Robert Mapplethorpe, Shelley Reed and Cecil Touchon.
Director Bruce Dempsey worked with New York’s Pace Prints and Gaines Peyton, co-founder of New York City’s Sears-Peyton Gallery and artist in her own right, who represents both Reed and Touchon. Dempsey first came to know Peyton after purchasing her ephemeral encaustic paintings for J. Johnson Gallery’s inventory at an art fair.
He later learned of both Peyton’s career as a dealer and her ties to the River City. A native of Jacksonville from a distinguished local family, Peyton’s gallery represents Atlantic Beach artist Linda Broadfoot (who has shown at J. Johnson Gallery)—proving the art world, too, is as small as the cultured cast of characters at Disney World sing (after all.)
Dempsey has followed the work of both Shelley Reed and Cecil Touchon independently for several years during his travels to New York City. Although the artists share a similar palette, their styles contrast starkly. On a recent trip to the city, however, the director was roused to pair the artists, juxtaposing the monochromatic painters, and the Black and White show was born.
The gallery exhibited the work of Al Held in 2006 and Dempsey knew that the Abstract Expressionist’s serigraphs from his black and white period would be a wonderful complement to the exhibition as well as Mapplethorpe’s provocative Z portfolio in the gallery’s inventory.
“I have always admired grisaille,” says Dempsey. “This stems from my involvement with art history and calls to mind Van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece and other paintings by Flemish and Italian masters executed in black and white to resemble classical stone sculpture.”
Painter Shelley Reed’s creative genius is galvanized from these very masters of art history. Her large-scale canvases, void of color, present a modern interpretation of classical themes with exquisite detail and beauty.
Painting in a strict grisaille palette Reed appropriates and merges imagery from other paintings, most often those of Dutch Baroque painters like Melchior d’Hondecoeter and Abraham Mignon known for their delicate still-lifes and careful studies of beasts and fowls.
Although the original paintings were popular with affluent families of the 17th century, Reed’s mysterious, unique compositions remain relevant in contemporary culture. She resuscitates ancient allegories, reinventing them to blend into modern times with an air of nostalgia.
Reed, a recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2006, combines ripe fruit and flowers with classical architecture alongside a menagerie of animals and avian specimens. Removing pigments allows her to focus on composition, perspective, light, shadow, texture and rhythm- all of which she orchestrates to perfection.
“I find the black and white paintings quite colorful—Shelley handles the subtle variations and tonal contrasts of white and grey beautifully,” says Dempsey. “They are very theatrical and Baroque, filled with action.”
The term “black and white” often calls to mind the first moving pictures. It is interesting that Reed often paints from a low vantage point so that her dramatic narratives and darkened skies loom high above, charged with anticipation as if viewed in a movie theatre.