Joshua Liner Gallery is pleased to present Weird Attic, an exhibition of new paintings by Los Angeles-based artist Britton Tolliver. This is the artist's first exhibition with the gallery, and will highlight the breadth of Tolliver's personal brand of abstraction, his investigative approach to geometry, and his curiosity about the sculptural and textural potential of acrylic paint. The artist will be in attendance at the opening reception on Thursday, February 19, 2015.
Britton Tolliver's practice poses tough, critically-minded, and deeply felt questions about what it means to make abstract paintings.While his work can be read as a conversation with both the historical roots of the genre and its often problematic contemporary iterations, it is above all a conversation (in the studio), with the visual vocabulary and material presence of each canvas as it evolves in real time. The paintings are therefore records of a kind of paradoxical call-and-response, in which the artist's drive to create improvised forms becomes inseparable from his instinct to organize and structure them.
Tolliver begins by using watercolor-based stains to make a relatively 'free' gestural composition. Though only a fraction of these colors and gestures will be visible in the final painting, they are the foundation for what is to come, indicative of the spirit that will saturate the work as it evolves. Tolliver then builds up layers of acrylic paint, defining forms by masking off sections of the original composition that he chooses to retain. As tape and blade join brush and pigment as tools, the repertoire of painterly moves expands and Tolliver's characteristic geometric forms begin to emerge. These include arrangements of seemingly gestural––yet carefully constructed––circular shapes. Like smoke rings, these are not static objects, but moments of definition in a field of ever-changing possibilities.
In most cases, a dense grid of squares or rectangles makes up the painting's final layer. The paint is built up so that the grid acts as a kind of bas-relief, with dense textural harmonies and dissonances playfully interacting across its variegated surfaces. In this way Tolliver creates a single, fractal-like composition that is in fact a constellation of many smaller compositions; each square and its associated group of dividing lines, however unique, suggests the complex and irreducible code of the whole picture of which it is part.
At first, the grids appear to be the most salient feature of the work, a way of orienting the eye and organizing other marks. But before long any seeming strictness in their regularity begins to fall apart, and they reveal themselves as places where some of Tolliver's boldest and freest experimentation takes place. When the artist rips away areas of accumulated medium, for instance, the grid is ruptured: underlying layers emerge, and the history of the painting is thrust into its immediate present.
Such moments also allow the work to extend its associative reach beyond the purely formal terms of abstraction. Skinfather, for instance, with its ascending rings, palette full of synthetic hues, and unlikely, nuanced luminosity, brings to mind a skateboard or surf shop outfitted with stained glass windows from a medieval cathedral. Harsh Toke, meanwhile, dispenses with the grid altogether. Instead, virtuosic handling of acrylic paint and a prismatic array of colors result in layering that is perhaps more optical than it is physical. Like an analog television whose vertical hold function has a mind of its own, the painting recasts the broad light of Southern California as an inner phenomenon, subject to the moods and intensities of the imagination.