Freight and Volume is pleased to present Damian Stamer's third exhibition at the gallery, Sundays. Stamer is a young artist, now based in Durham, whose latest suite of paintings are born from a neat geographic triangulation of influence and style: A European mentality aimed at the ramshackle architecture of the American South. Over the past five years or so the artist has been finding his own way through an interesting thicket of forebearers, precursors, and peers, most notably the New Leipzig School in Germany. This stretch of time has also seen a rather austere paring down on Stamer’s own part, from early canvases that flirted with text, meta-self-portraiture, exploding structures, and a free-ranging palette, to these new oil-on-panel pieces, which are mostly greyscale with occasional bleats of wild color, and which tirelessly interrogate and reimagine a handful of specific locations in Stamer’s home state of North Carolina.
What are those places? For the “Patrick Road” paintings, the subject is a building on the eponymous street in northern Durham County. “It’s fairly enigmatic,” Stamer says. “A farm, but it doesn’t look to be that much in use.” He’s been back several times to take large-format reference photographs for the paintings; the structure has only degraded with time. “The thing’s falling apart in front of my eyes, over the years.” Subject, Stamer says, can be a springboard for formalist concerns, but it’s not arbitrary or unimportant. These locations have some biographical resonance-how else to paint them with such reverence, a patina of nostalgia? At some point, he seems to suggest, the objecthood of the painting itself surpasses or equals the objecthood of the subject. This is especially apparent with the newest works from 2013, in which the artist puts greater emphasis on physicality: “The surfaces are important; I’m trying to figure out new ways to make marks all the time, for every painting.”
Personally, I’ve long been interested in this concept of building or making a painting-as opposed to painting it. It’s come up in varied conversations, with Jack Whitten (who embeds and anchors acrylic objects in a field of paint) and Fred Tomaselli (who buries found images and organic material in a tomb of resin). Stamer starts with a figurative interest in subject, but then proceeds to work on that image, to efface it, blur it, hide it, scrape it, partially to “super-compress time,” as he says, to imbue the finished piece with a heavy burden (history, weight, surface scars). Stamer takes seemingly abandoned architecture as his subject, and then proceeds to build a painting that reflects on that physical place, creating rough monuments to the otherwise passed and forgotten. The structures he represents-once built by hand, now left to ruin-are rebuilt, by hand, with paint, and distressed to reflect their heritage.
Part of what makes these paintings so exciting is the sense that Stamer has tamped down the diffuse enthusiasm of his earlier efforts, arriving at a more refined vocabulary that nods to his influences while also being clearly his own. The Germans are still there-Leipzeigers like Matthias Weischer, for instance, but also Gerhard Richter and his signature squeegee-drag and photo-blur. Stamer’s compositions are also more fully integrated, the impasse between abstraction and figuration more suavely navigated (gone are the harsher juxtapositions between, say, a realistically rendered haybale or barn and its surrounding weather system of daubs, marks, and brushstrokes.)
The artist characterizes these pieces as landscapes, “the biggest lie you can make,” Stamer says, “suggesting a space that you can ‘get into.’” Part of what he’s after is a push/pull response on the part of the viewer, drawn into that space before being ejected back out-with white borders that clearly frame the image as an image, or diptych and four-panel compositions that break or fracture the unified landscape into its constituent, painted parts. - Scott Indrisek, Executive Editor of Modern Painters
Stamer has received numerous international awards including a Fulbright grant, Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, as well as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. He has studied internationally at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary and the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design, Germany. Damian received his M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and his B.F.A. from Arizona State University (summa cum laude). He has exhibited extensively in the U.S. and abroad, including a solo show Overgrown at The Center for the Study of the American South in Chapel Hill, NC and a two person show Stamer/Thaler at Art Factory Gallery in Budapest, Hungary. He has an upcoming solo exhibition at Galerie Michael Schultz in Berlin of March 2014.