Tracing a line through the aesthetic of painterly abstraction from the 1960s to the present day, Simon Lee Gallery’s presentation at Frieze London juxtaposes work by Hans Hartung, Christopher Wool, Jeff Elrod and Eric N. Mack. Built upon experimental conceptual and material innovations, the practice of each of these artists strives for a continual revival of the medium of painting, offering a gestural freedom and sense of personal expression that operates within the history of abstraction, while at the same time proposing new perspectives on a mode of art making often considered obsolete. Exploring the physical properties of painterly process, all four artists have pushed the boundaries of two-dimensionality, providing exceptional interpretations of medium and material.
Hans Hartung’s unique visual language owes much of its gestural dynamism to the artist’s arsenal of painting tools and implements. While serving in the French Foreign Legion during the Second World War, the artist sustained an injury that led to the amputation of his right leg. This physical handicap led him to explore new, non-traditional ways of applying paint to canvas, discovering in the early 1960s the expressive possibilities of spray guns, as well as such everyday items as brooms, or paint-dipped branches collected from the olive trees that grew around his studio.
Inspired in part by Hartung’s lyrical abstractions, Christopher Wool’s diverse practice presents a continuous investigation of the intersection of the material and the abstract, drawing on a plethora of two-dimensional media – including paint and print – to undermine the distinctions that exist between each. Concerned with the operation of addition and erasure, Wool’s compositions have a digital counterpart in the work of Jeff Elrod, whose hybrid images incorporate elements of analogue and digitally-enhanced technologies.
Although he refers to himself as a painter, Eric N. Mack’s work strives to expand the definition of the medium, providing a compelling correlation with the work of Hartung, Wool and Elrod. His material assemblages, made from an array of found and commissioned textiles transformed by vigorous passages of paint, engage sculpturally with space, redefining the very nature of painting. Drawing on the permutations of established artists, Mack’s oeuvre interacts with the history of abstraction and its media, from the material innovations of Hartung and Wool, to the technological challenges posed by Elrod’s work.