By Dennis D’Alesandro
Douglas Witmer’s strong one-man show at AxD is comprised of two separate bodies of work. A suite of smaller works titled The School Papers shows off Witmer’s excellent color sense and supple surface textures. The other half of the show is called Fruitville, which showcases the artist’s never before exhibited wooden relief objects that adorn the gallery walls like bright, little satellites.
The School Papers are minimal, colorfield works on found paper that appear to be torn out of an old high school notebook. Witmer applies thin washes of gouache, acrylic, gesso, colored pencil and other mediums to get his desired effect, which on some of the stronger pieces turns the lowly notebook paper into a delicate, shimmering, and sometimes transparent, sometimes carbon-papery surface. His blocking in of vast pools of robust color gives these smallish works a visual presence not often experienced in paintings so small. Although the designs may come off as a bit pastiche, often evoking the sublime abstract expressionist sensibilities of the 1960s, it’s Witmer’s choice to employ this minimal language onto the notebook paper that keeps the viewer involved and the works fresh, like they were torn out of some important text of abstract hieroglyphs.
A particularly strong example is a piece comprised of a series of four darkly-stained, horizontal acrylic bands that taper off at each edge of the paper. The thin transparent wash upon which the bands traverse creates a shimmering atmosphere and brings the whole composition buzzing to life. As a result, the slight wrinkles in the paper glaze over, morphing the piece into a sort of translucent shade pulled over a modernist window. This work evokes a quiet, contemplative mood, with a futurist twist – picture lying on a bed in a spaceship and toying with the idea of not reporting for duty.
As The School Papers’ aim is to evoke depth despite the inherent flatness, Witmer claims the Fruitville works are set to do just the opposite, by creating a sort of perceptual flatness where there is depth. These pieces are also small; no piece is longer than eight inches in one direction. Consisting of simple assemblages of found wood, these objects are then subtly “manipulated” with any number of mixed media, including china marker, pastel, gouache, and collaged paper. Although it is said that some of these pieces were ten years in the making, the result is playful, yielding a whimsical array of little jewels, or fruits if you will, drooping from the walls.
Witmer works with very few curves, making all of his work angular. That, coupled with the use of certain high-key color additions, made me think of wooden rock candy. The angular assault also made me think of pixels, as if these little gestures could be joined together in a three-dimensional tetris-field. The different crosscuts and mixed-media textures give Fruitville a pleasing and varied texture, creating the visual equivalent of a good salad. Another thing I like is that each object has its own separate personality, even though they all are comprised of mainly the same materials.
Although the artist’s stated aim is to manipulate and flatten these objects, I saw them as the opposite. They represent a celebration of volume, like tangible painterly gestures ripped from the painter’s flat world and then magically brought to life — especially since you can see their shadows on the wall!
Check this show out at AxD Gallery, running until April 2.