East Hampton -
The buzz was out well before "Physicality/Action," an exhibition of Frank Wimberley abstracts, opened at Spanierman this past weekend. Invitations, which typically prompt a handful of responses, if any, were coming in, in droves - emails and telephone calls that included not just excitement about Wimberley but also appreciation of the gallery's handsome brochure, with its faithful color reproductions of nine paintings and introductory essay by former New York Times
art critic Phyllis Braff, who is writing a book on Wimberley. But the words
of those who chanced by, as the exhibit was being mounted, may especially testify to the powerful effect Wimberley's work can have. As gallery owner Helen Spanierman recalls, a woman wandered in, looking for the former gallery, saw the paintings and was stunned into admiration. She didn't know who the 81-year-old artist was, but his work "gave her goosebumps."
Frank Wimberley is no stranger, of course, to those who follow the heritage of Abstract Expressionism. The 26 paintings on exhibit here, spanning 13 years of work, intelligently arranged by Helen Spanierman, show what the buzz is all about. Wimberley is a fine Fine Artist - his acrylics and mixed media acrylics on canvas constituting dynamic free-form geometries of seductive tactility and fascinating color combinations. Viewers will be hard pressed not to touch the works where clots and elongated concentrations of pigment embellish the entire surface or where brushstrokes, heavy with paint, smear across and down, leaving raised side track marks in their wake. Which is to say, most of the works here, though not all.
One of the intriguing pleasures in seeing these Wimberleys together is the temptation to identify earlier (mid-late 1990s) and later (2006-2008) canvases, but the game goes only so far. Early Wimberley can be seen through the expansive Spanierman window, where the large, gorgeous 1997 "Misoro," with its traditional expressionist dispersion of colors - red, white, blue and black - commands the front wall, fingers of overlapping and interwoven strokes apparent. But lo! Right behind the front office desk there is the gestural "Flutter" (2008) with its wide-brush horizontal swirls, evincing the same kind of ribbon effects, its delicately hued bands of gray and orange (the watercolor properties of acrylic) abruptly curtailed on the left, as the pastel torn-edge meets the black vertical. This, in turn, hangs a right angle away from Wimberley's earlier "This Is The Garden," a stunning, moody more traditional division of color space from 1995.
"Blue Patch" by Frank Wimberley.
Several pieces, such as "Zest," with its bold, uniform-orange L-shaped lower plane set dramatically against a top portion of yellow, gold and gray blue - essentially the same palette as "Flutter" and just as audacious a juxtaposition of colors and styles - announce their newness. On the other hand, the more manifest mixed collages here, where Wimberley has affixed small pieces of variously shaped cloth to the canvas, sometimes layering the materials and infusing pigments with sand and varnish - "Thrum and Lavinia" from 1997, and "Amber Plane" and "Into Jamaica" from 2000 - seem to belong to earlier days of more widely distributed pigment coagulations. The distinction may be forced, but the recent pieces seem bolder, even wild in execution, while at the same time the color range seems more restricted, or unusual. Sixteen of the 26 works on exhibit here were completed in the last two years.
The thoughtful way all the work is hung encourages comparison-contrasts. In one gallery section "Staircase" (2007) dominant in white hangs near "Night Walk" (2008), a subtle color composition of luminous dark, fractured throughout with thin lines of light - an intricate, cracked design, like a textile print, that Wimberley seems to have adopted in recent years. The same style appears in the blue-hued "Search" and the olive-green "Sketch," also from 2008. The pairing of the almost similarly sized "Ascent" and "From Here To There," both from 2006 and both suffused with blue-white interlocking swirl strokes strategically illuminated by an off-center area of yellow, is particularly inspired, and will likely send viewers back to the linked chromosome-like "Marine Study" from 2004, and to the sharper-lined, less fluid brushstrokes in "Soft Hook," each painting's creamy white washed with dark blue.
Wimberley, who is often cited as a "painter's painter," meaning, perhaps, an artist who engages first for his signification of style and technique - aesthetically "Miles Ahead," it might be said (Wimberley himself has analogized his paintings and Miles Davis
's jazz) - is a long-time second homeowner in Sag Harbor and a true innovative heir of Abstract Expressionism. A man as understated and unassuming as he is creative and bold, he once replied to my enthusiastic comments on two different but equally impressive pieces that were hanging in separate sections of Spanierman during a landscape presentation earlier this year, with, "Oh? What? Where? Hmm." One can well imagine him, slight animating grin, saying the same thing in this marvelous one-man show.
• "Physicality/Action" will run through Aug. 18. Spanierman Gallery, LLC at East Hampton is located at 68 Newtown Lane, East Hampton.