Return to Articles


GARY LANG

February 21 - April 20, 2008 at Edward Cella Gallery, Santa Barbara

by Ray Zone


For the veteran abstract painter Gary Lang, a new series of monoprint paintings are a means of becoming “gravity free” while making work. When he is engaged in the art-making process, Lang says that “I’m floating, not encumbered by existence.” In his studio, Lang will typically stand about 30 feet away from a work in progress to “find the right viewing distance.”  Then, he discovers a kind of “magic between the surface of the painting and my body.” The gallery patron will have this option as well, looking at the paintings on exhibit. Lang compares this kind of seeing with “looking at conditions in nature.”

The large mixed-media works are titled “Hybrid Variations,” and consist of what he calls “mutating colored lines” that all ascend vertically. This austerely vertical imagery creates a feeling of ascendancy. And, to this observer, it references medieval religious painting and architecture, with its compositional energies launching heavenward and bespeaking an inevitable preoccupation with the divine.

The workmanship in these deceptively minimal works is actually highly complex. Each panel is a 40 x 33 inch piece of archival paper that started out as a monoprint.  The project was initiated when fine art printer Richard Tullis approached Lang to make a series of limited edition monoprints.  Since it is the immediacy of the act of painting by hand that most engages Lang, he was not really interested in the printing process initially. A strange kind of mutation, however, began to evolve.

Lang first printed “7 or 10 lines with spaces between” on the paper. Then, he says that he “strong-armed” the prints from Tullis, “back to my studio.”  In the spaces between the printed lines, Lang then began to weave hand-made vinyl acrylic striations.  For the final step in the process, Lang painted with oils and “reduced the width of the bands.”  This attention to process is key:  oils applied on top of acrylics and printing will hold fast. These media applied in reverse order would prove disastrous and result in flakes of paint falling off the mixed substrates.

It is in the chromatic adjacency and the edges of the vertical bands, that is, at the sites of joining opposing colors, where all the action happens. This is what drives the perceptual dynamism of these paintings. It is the spectral “vibration” which seems to take place when the paintings are viewed at different distances.  Lang’s unique touch and sensibility dwells in the spaces between two adjoining colors that meet to form a third perceived color.


"Hybrid Variation, #24," 2007,
oil, acrylic, and monoprint
on paper, 44” x 30”.







"Hybrid Variation, #22," 2007,
oil, acrylic, and monoprint
on paper, 44” x 30”.







"Hybrid Variation, #21," 2007,
oil, acrylic, and monoprint
on paper, 44” x 30”.







"Hybrid Variation, #38," 2007,
oil, acrylic, and monoprint
on paper, 44” x 30”.

In his studio, as a chromatic reference palette, Lang has painted large walls of mixed color. “I draw confidence and well-being from being around that,” he observes. Different gallerists, upon seeing this wall, have proposed to Lang that he exhibit it in a gallery space. But for Lang, it is the perceptual fluidity of chromatic pairings that remains of interest.  His work with color is a kind of relinquishment of control through which he makes new discoveries in expressing a “democratic affection for color.”

Even as this exhibition goes up, a new series of paintings will consist of horizontal bands of color, which lend a whole new context and meaning to the viewing experience. Horizontal lines very powerfully evoke landscape and the humanism of Renaissance art. Lang hopes that the horizontal paintings will “wrap around your head” and “bond with the viewer, creating a bridge.”   To borrow his words so as to note Lang’s rich paradoxes, the artist “sabotages reason” as he is “driven by a maverick logic.” He admits that he has no program for his advances and that he proceeds in an “intuitive navigational manner.” The process seems to be working. “Jump,” says Lang, “and you’ll land on your feet.”