In the summer of 2019, Rosenbaum Contemporary started discussions with painter, James Little on a variety of exhibition ideas from international and national art fair applications to solo projects and select group exhibitions, however the notion of a two-person artist survey exhibition seemed to resonate with all parties.
James Little discussed in length, and with great vigor and excitement his new painting series– monumental and large-scale all black paintings. Described as works that capitalized on various tones and depths of “black”, Little chose to move away from his more recognizable color palettes and dive into the divine notion of absolutes.
Immediately, Louise Nevelson’s name was proposed and respectfully joined the ranks of the initial conversations, completing and complementing the exceptional dialogue that already centered on Little’s oratorical delivery of his new painting series.
Conceptually, the pair materialized perfectly.
Louise Nevelson, the artist known for her monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces embodies with full vigilance, the central devotion to one-color perfection. Nevelson described black as the "total color" that "means totality” –it contained all color. It wasn't a negation of color. It was an acceptance; submitting to the notion, that black encompasses all colors. For her, black is the most aristocratic color of all.
I have seen things that were transformed into black, that took on greatness. I don't want to use a lesser word.
By working with a self-restricted color palette, Nevelson’s iconic identity became rooted in her black spray-painted wall reliefs, as well as her monochromatic grey and white assemblages and wooden constructions.
James Little, on the other hand, by removing color and dealing directly with the tones and values of “black”, stripped down his use of hues to expose his inner identity that adequately began to mirror his outer “veracity”. Void of his signature bold color choices, and rhythmic consolidations, the black pigments appeared richer than previous alchemic pigment and beeswax blends and poignantly alluded to an undefined sensibility of infinite depth and complexity. Little’s constricted and uncluttered compositions became a volley of Minimalist ideals that drove the viewer, if they were willing, to experience a euphoric divinity.
His new black paintings were a real catalyst for a quasi-religious experience put forth through non-color mannerisms.
The “experience” is the elevated platform in which both Nevelson and Little collide.
Aside from the apparent and obvious physical aesthetic comparisons between the artists with their choice of hue, a more theoretical or abstract postulation became clearer. By eliminating color, which in these instances, would act as a distraction to the viewers’ experience, both artists advanced toward a sublime and metaphysical space.
Conceptually, they intentionally or unintentionally created an undetermined or abstract sense of spatial relations. This occurrence in their respective works was not quite fleeting or ephemeral with an evanescent and brief moment, but vaster and ever expanding – infinitely interstellar.
The rhythmic arrangements of structure, of line, of curve, of piece and form drove the composition, but as we know, definitions of composition are visual– and the viewing experience is now adequately transcending these seemingly archaic terminologies; allowing us as the viewer to arrive at another place and time.
This however is not a new and groundbreaking concept. It can be seen in the insightful writings of Art Critic, Clement Greenberg. “In his essay. “Towards a Newer Laocoon”, published in 1940, he states:
“The destruction of realistic pictorial space, and with it that of the object, was accomplished by means of the travesty that was cubism. The cubist painter eliminated color because, consciously or unconsciously, he was parodying, in order to destroy, the academic methods of achieving volume and depth, which are shading and perspective, and as such have little to do with color in the common sense of the word. The cubist used…. recessive planes, which seem to shift and fade into infinite depths…”
Now fast forward over a century of Art History to see how contemporary masters like Louise Nevelson and James Little are inherently moving beyond the physical definitions of space, and are circumnavigating discernable concepts of pictorial depth through a less linguistically definable practice.
It is also hard to ignore the historical lineages belonging to twenty three year old Frank Stella and his debut of four black paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in 1959. Curator, Kate Nesin wrote of his works, that these black paintings were “at once stark, deadpan, rigorous, imposing, velvety – diagrammatic but also tactile.”
The insightful capture of aesthetic by Nesin on Stella from his work in 1959 can be honestly applied to Little’s new black paintings in 2019. There are times in artists’ careers that are considered defining moments. These moments are celebrated. In Little’s prestigious career, the new black painting series exceedingly catapults his significance in today’s contemporary art world – not only an artists’ artist, but an artist still defining his generation in a post-KAWS art consumerist economy. Craft, Dedication, Vigor, and half a century of theory-based production cement him in the lineage of Art History as an artist of worth and prestigious. A cite worthy of exhibiting alongside one of the great female contemporary artists of all time.
‘Untitled”, 1976-1978, by Louise Nevelson is a black painted wood assemblage from found objects –door, headboard, shelving, décor, etc. The calculated composition reflects itself in a vertically dominant play on erect lines. Methodical and geometric, Nevelson allows the viewer periods of rest with the placement of intricately crafted ornamentations, where our eye flickers in the beautiful baroque sensibilities. Hard edges play off the sensual curves of lathed constructions. The flat objects that volley for attention in the background– a circle, triangle, curves and arches activate the depth of field. Nevelson once stated: “…[My Art], stands like this door, straight and frontal….you don’t see it standing isolated, you see it extending…”
This self-reference is stoic in the sense that her work ascends beyond the systematizing principles of boxes, compartments, and sections to a more celestial experience…. extending infinitely beyond gallery and museum walls through quantum maelstroms of times and space.
“Decoy”, 2019, is a black, oil and wax on linen painting measuring 72” by 72” by James Little that culminates perfectly the anti-esoteric minimalistic qualities Little covets.
Evidences of the painter’s hand, the process, and the dynamism of where ‘Artist is Shaman’ reveals more about Joseph Beuys than Frank Stella’s signature minimalistic motto of: “What You See Is What You See”. Little’s imperfect line qualities channel the Navajo Nation’s deliberate mistakes in their woven rugs – a symbol of imperfection, and a methodical flaw where the spirit moves in and out, perceiving only the “Creator” is perfect.
Alternating angular arrangements create a quasi-herringbone composition of multi-tones “black” lines. Hyper-hypnotic, the rhythms of the artist composition resonate universal themes already existing in every facet of our existence, surrounding us at every moment. These painterly pulses traverse foundations of everything from musical notes, chords and nomenclatures to Nature’s own chirping crickets and birds. We are no longer tied to conceptual understandings of art history and academic terminology. Little shows us life, in a philosophical suggestion via a painting. The painting is a vehicle, an instrument that seems to validate Quantum Physics' String Theory where Little’s strokes emanate vibrational states that propagate through space and time, interacting with everything simultaneously.