In the hierarchy of art, painting has always been at the top of the heap. The medium lends itself to the depiction of life, death, and desires, as well as to the investigation of imaginary, abstract forms. Two new Phaidon Press tomes, Painting Today and Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting, offer an exciting overview of painting in every conceivable genre — from ambiguous abstraction to hybrid pictures.
Painting Today presents an international roundup of the best painters of the past 40 years. Written by Tony Godfrey, a 20-year veteran at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, the volume begins with a look at the Global Scene, which includes Australian aboriginal painter Uta Uta Tjangala, Korean abstractionist Lee Ufan, and the Colombian portrayer of fat-figured people Fernando Botero. The next chapter examines Western Traditions in contemporary painting, featuring Richard Prince’s riffs on Willem de Kooning’s abstract women, Bridget Riley’s op-art patterns, and Alex Katz’s formal figurative studies, among others.
Further chapters explore the neo-expressionist movement of the ‘80s, photorealism and the use of photography as a point of departure for painting, pure and ambiguous abstraction, history painting, painting space, and installation painting, as well as the requisite review of the figure, landscape, and still life. John Currin, Marlene Dumas, Michael Borremans, and Jenny Saville are highlighted in The Figure; Peter Doig, Laura Owens, and Miguel Barcelo get good play in Landscape; and Gary Hume, Sudodh Gupta, and Wilhelm Sasnal are standouts in Still Life.
Chapters on Death and Life, the Leipzig School, Post-feminism, and Painting Tomorrow round out the beautifully designed, dynamic 448-page book, which includes 550 illustrations, artist biographies, and a chronology of painting since 1968.
Painting Abstraction takes a more focused look at the medium. Penned by independent curator and critic Bob Nickas, the 352-page hardback kicks off with an essay on the Persistence of Abstraction, followed by six chapters that analyze a variety of artistic approaches to abstract painting. The chapter on Hybrid Pictures includes the car-crash inspired canvases of Kristin Baker, the pixilated paintings of Alex Brown, and Elizabeth Neel and Carrie Moyer’s distorted figures.
The Rhythm and Opticality chapter features Karin Davie‘s loopy brushwork, Xylor Jane‘s obsessive mark-making, and John Tremblay’s experimental approach to painting; Color and Structure highlights such masters of the medium as Mary Heilmann, while championing more recent players, including Joanne Greenbaum and Odili Donald Odita; and Mike Cloud’s mix of paint on old clothes on stretcher bars is a standout in Found/Eccentric Abstraction.
The final two chapters deal with Form, Space, and Scale and the Act of Painting. Katharina Grosse’s unusual approach to real space as the site for painterly intervention resonates particularly well on these pages, as does Bernard Frize’s colorful engagements of canvases with continuously moving brushes of paint. Steven Parrino, Thomas Scheibitz, and Christopher Wool also contribute much to the dialogue of these final two overlapping concerns. Weighing in at more than five pounds and featuring 250 illustrations, Painting Abstraction capsulizes a current movement.
Both books are available from Amazon, local bookstores, and Phaidon’s new pop-up shop in the SoHo neighborhood of New York.