There appears to be progress needed in our recognition of female contributions to the history of abstract painting. While leaders of the movement like Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell are relatively well known, these vanguards and many of their counterparts are often overlooked by their male contemporaries, figures like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
But, putting aside a need to celebrate female contributions to the history of the movement, there are always still chances to consider the contemporary ways in which women interpret the tenets of abstractionism today.
The current exhibition at Nashville’s Tinney Contemporary, “Women of Abstraction” running until September 26, 2019, is an effort to appreciate this female legacy through its acting contributors. By featuring new works by women in the field, the gallery has placed an emphasis on the broad range of abstract painting done today and the importance of individual expression within the movement — thus celebrating “women of abstraction” by showcasing the uniquely abstract qualities of their work, rather than anything particularly “female” about them.
“As a result of the lasting appeal of the Abstraction Movement, there has been an increased desire to uncover and recognize the women of the many periods of Abstraction throughout history,” per the gallery. “In 2019, being an abstract painter holds a highly dynamic and diverse set of meanings — especially when compared to the pioneers of the previous century. Each artist approaches material, shape, color and space in ways that uniquely reflect their own cultivated experiences and ideas.”
Desire by Martica Griffin, one of the pieces selected for the show, exemplifies this attempt to put the spotlight on abstract art’s inclusivity.
“I’m looking at everything as a source of inspiration — nature, history, street art, current events, fashion, food,” Griffin said. “Painting is a mysterious language and I’m always trying to understand it and make it my own.”
Desire‘s color palette and interpretation of movement and feeling was inspired by a late friend. As in the best examples of abstractionism, no direct imagery between this inspiration and what’s on the canvas is immediately apparent, but instead there is a more truthful and natural interpretation of this friend’s spirit and energy.
This reliance on feeling, energy and instinct that is so critical to abstract art is readily apparent in Griffin’s technical process for creating Desire. She began with an un-stretched canvas pinned to a wall, applying the first coats of paint over a rigid surface so that they could “do what they wanted.” She used paints with different consistencies and a variety of tools and techniques to make the underlying texture marks. To add more sensuous shapes to the piece, Griffin used carbon black colored fluid acrylic.
“I worked back and forth adding and subtracting until I felt the piece was in a state to stretch,” she explained. “I did make some changes once it was stretched because I’d kept things that seemed to be getting in my way.”
The five other artists featured in “Women of Abstraction” similarly interpret the movement and its possibilities in uniquely contemporary ways. There are pieces by Mary Long, Carol Mode, Sisavanh Phouthavong, Mildred Jarrett and Jeanie Gooden, in addition to several by Griffin. Each makes a strong case that uncovering the women of abstraction can mean simply recognizing those who are pushing it forward today.
Griffin is based in Nashville and focuses on non-representational and figurative work. She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art from East Carolina University and studied postgraduate painting at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her work has been exhibited throughout Nashville for more than a decade.
Tinney Contemporary is located at 237 5th Avenue.