David Richard Gallery is pleased to present Color Field Paintings from the 1960s and 1970s: Aesthetic Transitions Through Process, Willem de Looper’s first solo exhibition with the gallery and his first in New York City since 1988. The presentation of 13 paintings from 1968 to 1976 covers a seminal period in de Looper’s career. De Looper (1932, The Hague, Netherlands – 2009, Washington, D.C.) maintained his focus on formal concerns using a process driven approach that yielded numerous color-based abstractions during these decades. The big shift during this period was his moving away from pouring and physically rolling and manipulating the paint on the canvas surface to bringing brushes and rollers into the process to guide the location, but not always the flow and final placement of the acrylic paint. Thus, the compositions transitioned from amorphous, billowy and free-flowing using mostly gravity and chance to drive his compositions to decidedly creating striated bands of color, often unbounded and melding from one to the other. The continued application of multiple thin layers of pigment and allowing underlayers and residue of previous passages to remain and peak through upper layers maintained a level of chance and surprise that was as challenging to control and fresh to the artist as the tilting of the canvases and rolling the pigment in an attempt to guide the outcome.
About the Paintings in the Exhibition:
De Looper’s paintings from the 1960s were classic ethereal and stained Color Field paintings made with dilute paint poured, rolled and sponged across the canvases. Focusing on formal concerns, mixing color on the surfaces to generate color-based abstractions and leveraging process that minimized the artist’s control, all yielded the potential for more episodic, yet revelatory outcomes. Responding intuitively and quickly to such results produced unanticipated shapes and gave his paintings an organic feel that kept them alive and vibrant, and opened them to broader interpretation. Perhaps subliminal, but color choices were likely inspired by looking deeply into the velvety corollas and saturated colors of flowers or viewing lush, dense flower gardens from a distance where the colors meld one to the other. Some of the paintings are primarily shades of blue, lavender and purple, created by layering dilute paint such that they read atmospheric with tremendous depth, possibly inspired by landscapes, seascapes and cloudscapes from his European roots growing up in Holland, or perhaps the influence of the ever-present Delft blue porcelains. Still other paintings with narrow, horizontal shapes and ethereal grounds of melding colors splashed with flecks and drips of paint are evocative of celestial skies and stars.
In the 1970s, there was a notable shift in De Looper’s paintings to more horizontally striated bands of colors and textured surfaces on a variety of square as well as horizontally and vertically oriented canvases. The artist brought brushes back and added the roller to his repertoire of methods for applying and distributing pigment on the surfaces of his canvases. These paintings, while still ethereal with layers of translucent colors and the same luminosity and radiance as the paintings from the 1960s, the somewhat distinct bands of hues suggest or reference landscapes with a deconstructed approach, breaking the landscape components into discrete strata comprising the sea, land and sky. This perception is largely due to a greater use of hues of blue, purple, amber, ocher and brown, which inherently read as landscape colors. Again, this new approach also brought a painterly European sensibility to De Looper’s creations and abstractions with historical influences of Dutch painting and colors. This landscape perception could also be assisted by De Looper’s own statement, “Although my paintings are a distillation of nature, they are as abstract as music.” However, the artist maintained that the use of striations in the 1970s were not intended to represent landscapes. Instead, the striations came entirely out of his formalist concerns and desire to use the banding as a structural device to further his explorations of space and depth in painting through color as though he were picturing light. As noted, light and the interplay with color as affected by the texture of the surface of the painting support was another formal aspect of his work in pursuit of non-objective painting.
De Looper did not work from sketches, his compositions were not predetermined. Instead, he relied on his process and worked in an improvisational and intuitive manner—as inspired by jazz musicians. The first color, the first pour or the first stroke determined the next, and then the next, and so on and so on. His process was to let the painting with its colors and their blending on the surface—both the colors that remained from the last pour or stroke and the new ones that emerged from the most recent application of pigment—determine the next hue to be layered on top and ultimately, the final composition. This approach gave his paintings that lush, organic sensibility that made them not only more accessible, but current and of the moment. Even 40 and 50 years later, his paintings from this critical period are just as contemporary and vibrant as they day they were made.
Not only were De Looper’s paintings inspired or influenced by his interest in the natural world, but also by jazz and classical music, travel and experiencing different cultures. While his titles might have been of a specific person, place or event, the imagery was always abstract and rooted in his formal concerns of color, line and composition and ultimately created through his steady and thoughtful process. De Looper’s titles for his paintings were also spontaneous and inspired by the final composition, not the other way around. In keeping with the principles of non-objective painting, the title is not the subject nor inspiration for the painted creation, but the name given to the painting after the fact (or performative act).