It is much the fashion to be making photographs that look like abstract paintings. Not Paul Winstanley. He is making abstract paintings based on photographs. They have the effect of reminding you just how much more painting has to offer in the control of light and reflection, especially in the subtle tonalities of white, gray and blue that dominate this series, Art School. The show at 1301PE is on through June 28.
Winstanley is known for his paintings of institutional interiors, modern architecture, spaces for waiting with windows and vacant views. But this particular series has added significance. The English artist, now 60, traveled around his country as well as Scotland and Wales photographing the empty studios of various art schools including the ones where he himself studied painting.
Though he did not alter anything that he photographed in these art school interiors, his paintings are in no sense photorealist. Instead, the photographs are the basis for medium to large scale pictures, all vertically oriented, in his own sophisticated version of grisaille, the technique of using neutral grays for under-painting taught in traditional courses. Though his past paintings were largely executed in such seemingly neutral tones, in this context, they elicit a sharper recognition of painting methodology.
The white walls of utilitarian white rooms with gray floors may not seem like the most inviting subject matter. Yet, the absence of furniture or people in these paintings permits the redolence of suggestion, all that art school has to offer, the romance of the history and the process. "I'm interested in how little information I need to put into the painting and still allow the viewer to see everything that's there, allow their mind to do a lot of the work," he has said.
It is a pleasure therefore to focus on the painting itself, the chalky white surface of the studio walls, the frosty opaque windows, the tiny horizontal vents along the baseboard heating units. One dramatic painting includes liquid lines of shadowy colors along the bottom, traces of a painting that had been completed but removed. Two other paintings depict molded fiberglass chairs loosely arranged in a circle, evidence of a discussion that has passed or is about to begin. Both are titled Seminar. One is painted in gray tones while the other is entirely coated in a translucent golden yellow, the color of nostalgic yearning, perhaps. His paintings represent a time and space between past and future, hovering enticingly in the ever-present.
The source material for these paintings is on view in an upstairs gallery where an old fashion slide projector shows the original photographs. The color photographs themselves are the subject of a monograph, Art School, published by Ridinghouse. For more information, go to 1301PE.com.