An evocative reversal marks eight recent paintings in luminous oil and wax by British artist Paul Winstanley. Part of a larger series of 27, their common subject is art school -- the studios and classrooms now ubiquitous in the training of artists.
All of Winstanley’s paintings at 1301PE gallery show empty classrooms, entirely unpopulated by men or women -- or by any art. Instead, the art is in the depiction itself.
These vacant training grounds are monochrome. Geometric compositions show detached and variable planes. They echo the gallery walls on which these very paintings hang, juxtaposing absence and presence.
Winstanley paints from photographs. (A projector shows a continuous loop of source images, which recall the spare, luminous photographs of Uta Barth.) Usually he combines multiple images to arrive at a more perfect composition.
This Utopian idealism is tempered by the paintings’ faithfulness to battered walls, funky baseboard heaters, damaged floors and rain-streaked windows. Nature’s streaked patterns repeat the paint dripped on walls from student canvases no longer present.
In two of the most compelling works, identical compositions of identical plastic chairs randomly arranged in a loose circle bring us into the seminar room. That’s the place for original research and contentious argument to unfold, but the paintings hold order and chaos in pregnant equilibrium.
One painting is grisaille, its carefully balanced grays setting a dour but minimalist tone of elegant propriety. The other is flooded with a queasy yellow hue, like sodium-vapor security lighting, which transforms the scene.
Winstanley conjures a lovely, contemplative expressiveness. Neither photographs nor art school is guaranteed to provide that.