David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by James Welling, on view at the gallery’s 533 West 19th Street space. This will be the photographer's fifth solo show at the gallery.
Overflow is comprised of three distinct but related bodies of work, all of which explore photography's hybrid relationship to painting. In Wyeth, Welling traveled to Maine and Pennsylvania in pursuit of the subjects and places painted by American artist Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009). While the project started in 2010, its origins date back to Welling's early years as an artist, when Wyeth was a major source of inspiration.
Welling was interested equally in the biographical significance of Wyeth's subject matter and in tracing the origins of how he came to photography. As he noted in a recent interview with Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, the Wyeth project permitted him to uncover pictorial devices he had unconsciously adopted from the painter. Wyeth's work inspired him "to look very closely at things, to be intense, to be very focused." Wyeth, in turn, goes beyond the straightforward question of influence to engage with the complex relationship between the photographic image and its referent, which here constitutes both Wyeth’s paintings and the literal subjects and locations in front of Welling’s camera.
While several of the photographs are based directly on Wyeth's compositions, determining what was, and what was not, a Wyeth subject became a multi-layered project. Other photographs depart from a visual resemblance to the painter's work and depict his studio, the ruins of a church that was still in use when Wyeth painted it, steel hooks protruding from the ceiling of a farmhouse where he often worked, an aging apple orchard, and in Welling’s own words, a "clump of grass that reminded me of Wyeth’s dry brush drawing Grasses (1941)." Broader issues of temporality, aging, and creative renewal are evoked, while the photographs simultaneously trace Wyeth's oeuvre and open up to a unique understanding of Welling's own practice.
Welling's interest in the subtle relationships formed within his works is further explored in Fluid Dynamics, a group of photograms made by exposing wet photographic paper to light from a color enlarger. The colors in these works were created by sampling selected colors in the Wyeth photographs and "mapping" them onto digital files of the photograms using gradient maps in Adobe Photoshop. Fluid Dynamics resemble watercolors, a medium the photographer explored at the onset of his career. In his interview with Hickson, Welling also pointed out how his "physical relationship with the medium, the literal and figurative fluidity of watercolor, carries over into how I work with photography as a malleable medium." Since the late 1990's, Welling has used photograms to underscore his interest in the "photographic" over "photographs," pictures made using a camera and lens.
Also on view are a selection of gelatin silver prints from Frolic Architecture (2010), Welling's collaborative project with the poet Susan Howe. These images were produced from original photograms created by painting on thin sheets of mylar that were contact printed on photographic paper. As with Fluid Dynamics, light, pigment, transparency, and fluidity take on an almost sculptural presence, while also reinforcing a painterly impulse.