Beth Letain’s monumentally scaled paintings are adamantly, absurdly honest about what they are: brightly colored stripes, squares, stacks, and slabs suspended across impossibly weightless white grounds. These are lively and quotidian forms, easily named but stubbornly resistant to description. In their simplicity, their unassuming thematic variations, these works hold up a mirror to painting’s modernist past. Reflected in them we can see Malevich’s quest to materialize the immaterial, to make color float in an imagined infinite; also echoed is Gertrude Stein’s strict assurance that there is no repetition, only insistence. The ghosts of the old guard are here, represented by the material directness of the paintings and the painter’s curiosity about the operations of vision, about how almost nothing may be built into absolutely something. But these engagements of modernist problem solving, modernist rigor, and modernist entanglement with material and form have refused the self-seriousness that defines that canon. Letain makes paintings that are both top-heavy and weightless, guffawing and full of grace. These paintings are too homey to claim the sublime, too massive to be pretty, too modest to trade in the existential weight of the expressive gesture. They are, however, absolutely serious about joy, and surprise the viewer time and again by locating that joy with absolute conviction in a field of slippery, slap-dash, reeling exactitude.
Sarah Hollenberg, 2019
Beth Letain (b.1976, CA) studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and SUNY Purchase College, graduating with an MFA in 2008. Recent exhibitions include Pace Gallery, London; Peres Projects, Berlin; Kunstverein Reutlingen, Reutlingen.
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