Sarah Braman, Todd Chilton, and John McEnroe are select contemporary artists whose work continues the distinct trajectory of late Modernist painting. During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s painting was being boiled down to its essence – its consistency, color, and a flat support on which to place the paint. Artists were abandoning representational subject matter in favor dripping paint, color fields, and geometric abstraction. Paint was no longer expected to look like something. Paint was free to be and look like paint.
Each of the artists in Young Moderns utilizes the theory and techniques of late Modernist painting in their work whether their work can be easily categorized as painting or not. Sarah Braman’s sculptural work utilizes the flat surfaces of cardboard, Plexiglas, and plywood as grounds for her scumbled paint marks. She places these multiple supports for her paint together at various angles to create angular sculptures whose surfaces are treated as paintings.
Todd Chilton’s pared down subject matter and use of geometric forms is akin to the work of Frank Stella or Kenneth Noland. Chilton’s abstractions do not try to hide the fact that a human hand made his paintings. His lines are crooked and the paint drips, bestowing his paintings with a wry sense of humor that winks at history while creating new forms with the tools history gave him. Chilton has said, “I do think it could be useful to look at my work in the context of that moment in the history of abstraction if only to see that it functions with an awareness of its history. I think that I make historically aware paintings that are of their own time.”
As his predecessors were concerned with stripping painting of all unnecessary elements, John McEnroe strips his works of all materials but paint. McEnroe pours and drips paint across a large slab, allows it to dry, and then peels the paint from the slab. These “paintings” look like curtains or skinned beasts that hover somewhere between a painting and a sculpture as the sheets of paint ripple against the wall and drape over hooks and bolts.
These three “painters” use the theories and practices of late Modernism as a springboard to create smart works that seem unconcerned with their status as painting, sculpture, or conceptual exercises.