Nancy Graves, a New York-based artist, worked in sculpture, painting, drawing, printmaking, theatre and film, and explored nearly every medium, method of production and form of presentation. Her art was rooted in natural history, evolution and science, inspired by data and technology as she enthusiastically imagined the future. Graves’ artwork is dynamic and complex, combining the past with the future, using layers of actual data and technical information, presenting a kaleidoscope of colors and array of representational and abstract imagery. Multiple and fragmented views from different vantage points, collaging representational imagery with topographical and astral maps, layering wind and wave patterns, all provide multiple points of entry into Grave’s artworks and imagination. Her use of data, maps and models from technology and scientific disciplines as diverse as paleontology, archaeology and astrophysics becomes the object and the art. The result is magnificent abstractions, dense with literal imagery, gesture, lyrical ribbons and swaths of color across the canvas.
This presentation examines a specific series of paintings, prints and sculptures produced from 1982 through 1989. The paintings and prints are characterized by and unique in Graves’ oeuvre because of their black grounds. The paintings from 1981 to 1983 and the prints from 1987 relate to Graves’ costumes and set that she designed for Trisha Brown’s choreography and dance, Lateral Pass, in 1985. The stage was black and Graves’ props were colorful gestures made of acrylic and metal suspended from wires in several layers on the stage along with other suspended sculptural elements. The dancer’s costumes were perfectly coordinated as they danced in and around those suspended artworks. The paintings from 1989 also have a black ground with the addition of painted anodized aluminum sculptural elements that are attached to and protruding from the paintings. These paintings demonstrate how Graves moved effortlessly between sculpture and the two-dimensional picture plane, combining the two art forms by painting her sculptures and attaching armatures and three-dimensional elements to her paintings. The sculptural elements made the paintings more literal, pulling the strokes and imagery off the canvas and into three-dimensional space.
The optical effects explored by Graves in the paintings and prints with the black ground came from her study of color under Josef Albers at Yale in the 1960s and his important course on the Interaction of Color. The vibrational combinations of neon-like colors against the black grounds are evocative of “after images” and hence, the title for the exhibition.