About the Exhibition
In the Western world from the Renaissance to around 1880, the agreed upon definition of art was: art is the imitation of nature. Over centuries artists worked to create the illusion of three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface. Linear, aerial, atmospheric perspectives came into play; foreshortening figures and overlapping images became tools of the artist who gave the viewer a painting that seemed like a window through which you could see the world: people, places, landscapes.
But in the late19th century artists like the French Fauve, Maurice Denis, thought this: a painting is essentially a flat surface covered with colors arranged in a certain order.
What? A painting did not have to represent something…no window to look through…no sense of walking a path from fore-ground to middle ground to back ground? Was it permitted that a painting could exist just for itself as an object with no reference to the seen world?
More than 130 years have passed since the Post Impressionists challenged the definition of art and it is to be said that many of us still have some difficulty looking at the art of today.
Artist Denny McCoy doesn’t make it easy.
Take a gallery.
Hang four very large black paintings.
Welcome to the exhibition.
It’s not that McCoy is trying to confuse us or make us uncomfortable. Actually he wasn’t thinking of us when he made these works.
Artists create in order to solve problems that they set for themselves. He may have asked himself: How can I make a large black painting using all the knowledge and techniques I have amassed in my life making art? How can I make it more than a black painting? How do I use color and make the color so subtle that it takes concerted effort to see it? It’s that kind of thinking. The working comes in preparing a canvas: underpainting the surface, sectioning off areas, choosing colors that are laid on in bands, painting some areas two or three times and making sure the exterior is smooth. Thought, concentration, application.
After the painting is completed and deemed successful in the artist’s eye, only then are we, the viewer, considered because part of the process of making art is wanting to share it.
So, how to begin in a gallery filled with large, black paintings? First: Don’t be overwhelmed. Give the paintings time. Stand or sit in front of one and look. Ask yourself: What am I seeing It will be hard not to ask ‘what does it mean’ but keep looking. Just focus on the painting. Soon your eye will pick up discrete tonal areas; differing widths of color will come into view. You comprehend that there is, indeed, more to the painting than the color black.
It is pleasing just to recognize that you’ve found the colors arranged on this flat surface. But in the time of the looking you also realize how quiet these works are. There is a tranquility that seems to come from them. Now ask what this might mean. It’s not necessary to know what the artist was thinking. That’s as private as are the associations you bring to the work.
The paintings become meditations on whatever you choose. Their very nature is contemplative, elegant. They serve as forums for free flowing thoughts that may lead you places you didn’t expect or they may simply help you understand how gratifying it is to look closely and uncover.
In finding these so very subtle colors on these canvases, in giving ourselves time to think and feel, there is a chance of a deeper discovery. And that is our reward.
– Becky Duval Reese
El Paso Museum of Art
Denny McCoy graduated from the Columbus College of Art & Design before receiving an MFA from Washington University in St Louis. As an art instructor he taught at a professional art school, community college, and army arts and crafts center. After many years in California, he is now living near Wimberley after too much time spent in Dallas and Austin. His work has been acknowledged with fellowships, awards, and exhibitions, and inclusion in museum and private collections. Currently he is involved in finding a new visual awareness through alternate means of problem solving.