Johnny Abrahams – Mediaforms
For Johnny Abrahams and Samantha Bittman, substrate is everything. Each artist pays an unduly amount of attention to the material and formal considerations that surround the surface prior to any application of paint. The traditionally western canvas-as-surrogate window model is bypassed, yielding a new arena of immense possibility within the relatively simple confines of fabric stretched over wood. This isn’t to say that Abrahams and Bittman’s work is ahistorical – quite the opposite – both artists reference, and refract trajectories that arose out of modernism during the 20th century. Namely, for Abrahams – Stella’s shaped canvas, and for Bittman – Anni Albers and the Bauhaus weavings, as well as the language of optical illusion shared between the two. We are left with the question of what is at stake; how do we find relevance in expanding and expounding upon modernist art pursuits of the previous century within the context of our ever-virtualizing digital present?
For Abrahams, the answer manifests through a graceful collision of analog formalism and digital image making techniques, such as layering and transparency – age old techniques within painting, that have taken on new meaning in the age of Photoshop. For Bittman, it’s through the intimate attention to detail contained within the manufacturing of the actual fabric of a painting, which is then augmented, obscured, and emboldened through the application of paint – entangling both artist and viewer in a dialogue over that which we overlook under the mechanisms of global capitalism. Perhaps this is their greatest success – Johnny Abrahams and Samantha Bittman’s paintings flourish through the means by which they destabilize the viewer. In one piece, Abrahams constructs a painting surface made up of turned planes through the use of repeated lines, layering one plane over another with lines intersecting to create a crosshatched effect, which is then mirrored and enhanced through the artist’s use of a shaped substrate following the forms of the planes delineated in paint. Through a few deft moves, Abrahams strands the viewer somewhere between flatness and depth, analog and digital. Bittman goes to similar lengths in her preparation of a surface, using a loom to weave dizzyingly detailed surfaces, which then receive multiple passes of acrylic paint that work in concert with the weaving to push and pull certain parts of the image. Bittman’s ability to elegantly unpack, rework, and play with the raw material of painting works to undo one of our primary oversights embedded within the medium – the lack of consideration generally given to the fabric that comprises a painting, leading to a heightened awareness of our material surroundings and the pervasive anonymity of embedded human labor.
Guerrero Gallery is pleased to present solo shows by New York based painter Johnny Abrahams (b.1979) and Chicago based painter Samantha Bittman (b.1982). This marks Abrahams’ and Bittman’s first solo exhibitions in San Francisco as well as with the gallery. Selected exhibitions of Abrahams include: The Hole, New York; Jack Hanley, New York; Joshua Liner, New York; Vigo Gallery, London; Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland; Pizzuti Collection, Columbus; and Galerie van der Medien, Brussels. Samantha Bittman has recently shown with Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Chicago; Greenpoint Terminal Gallery, New York; Omaha; Longhouse Gallery, New York; Johansson Projects, Oakland; CES Gallery, Los Angeles; and David B. Smith Gallery, Denver.
These works attempt to demonstrate painting’s ability to assimilate and transform imagery made possible by digital image-making technologies into analogue objects of the material domain. Appropriating and re-contextualizing digital media forms is the central strategy these paintings use to reference the ubiquitous digital formats that characterize the present day. Most works allude to the ease with which disparate elements are superimposed over one another to form compositions in digital image making programs, and bitwise operations such as compositing or raster graphics. The combining of an image with a background to create the appearance of partial or full transparency, the merging of layers into overlying transparent planes, or the grouping of polygons into bitmaps to display an image on a screen are all central themes. The intention of the works is not to simply replicate digital media, but rather to apply the virtual operations found in digital image making platforms to the material form of paint as a means of commentary on painting’s concurrence with the information age.