The lineage for this most recent series of paintings by Massachusetts-based artist Dennis Congdon can be traced to a monumental, intricately hand-cut paper stencil, which was exhibited in its own right at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston earlier this year. Made from an original drawing, the ten by twenty feet work on paper re-introduced one of the artist’s signature images – a large, central pile of abandoned canvases intermingled with other ruins. As both a completed artwork and a tool, the stencil laid the foundation for the ten new paintings featured in the artist’s fourth New York solo show aptly dubbed “Congeries.”
While Congdon’s highly idiosyncratic and laborious sequence of drawing, cutting, spraying, and brushwork may not be immediately apparent, the resulting graphic edges and serial images give the impression of a mechanical fastness or distance from the artist’s hand. Speaking about this formal tension in an interview with Arthur Peña for New American Paintings, the artist said, “I aspire to make paintings that a viewer can seize immediately – entire as it were – and then can move into slowly. We experience the landscape this way after all. We scan the horizon for coyotes, then look down and pick up a tuft of fur in the moss…If the stenciled elements could be seen as using the Florentine or fresco painting lineage, which puts drawing first, then the color is in the Venetian or oil on canvas lineage. These are two ‘lines’ that are ultimately never too far apart, but in the studio I have been employing means that allow the color and drawing to drift apart, reconnect, diverge again, and recouple.”
Writing for Art in America, artist and critic Carrie Moyer observed,“[Congdon’s paintings are] neither history paintings nor landscapes, [but] more like candy-colored billboards advertising a stroll through a scenic archeological dig or a verdant classical garden.” William Corwin for the Brooklyn Rail continued, “Congdon’s palette of soothing pastel tones in oil, flashe, enamel, and lightly abraded surfaces may lay claim to the fresco aesthetic of Latium, but his subject matter inhabits the coffee houses and bars (and psychoanalytic offices) of late 19th century Vienna and Paris. The conceit of the Forum Romanum as a regulating geometry of jumbled ruins, architectural conglomerates spanning centuries, and crumbling statuary belies the real focus of Congdon’s paintings, which is the accumulation and appropriation of mostly classical and classically inspired objects as stand-ins for a very modern psychic sensibility. The piles and mounds in these large canvases drip with implication, forming tidy connections between sex, art, desire, and studio practice, and presenting for our consideration the eternal problem of drawing inspiration from the past—or in fact, drawing inspiration at all.”
Dennis Congdon (b. 1953, Providence, RI) lives and works in Rehoboth, MA. He received a MFA from Yale University and a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He has received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship and an American Academy in Rome fellowship. Recent exhibitions include a solo exhibition at the CUE Foundation (curated by Stanley Whitney); the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Smith College, Oberlin College, the RISD Museum, and the Mona Bismark Foundation, Paris. His work has been reviewed extensively including The New York Times, Art in America, Brooklyn Rail, and New American Paintings, among others.