Visiting Artist Profiles

Palden Weinreb

By Brent Foster Jones June 14, 2012

The Visiting Artist Profile series, which highlights some of the artists, curators, and scholars who intersect with the Bay Area visual arts community through the various lecture programs produced by local institutions.


Palden-Weinreb-Cast-Diffusion

Cast Diffusion; 2008; graphite on paper; 41 x 55 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Rossi & Rossi, London.

This article is part of the Visiting Artist Profile series, which highlights some of the artists, curators, and scholars that intersect with the Bay Area visual arts community through the various lecture programs produced by local institutions. Palden Weinreb will speak at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 28, at the Asian Art Museum.

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Palden Weinreb creates affectingly elegant distillations of perception, energy, and space. His multidimensional, abstract drawings, encaustic paintings, and more recent light boxes reflect a closely held personal belief in a universal interconnectedness that may exist beneath our complicated lives, or, as Weinreb puts it, “a singular deeper structure.”1 Consider Cast Diffusion (2008), an intensely powerful work. Here, in meticulous and slender graphite lines, Weinreb depicts a strange, seemingly silent, cylindrical floating superstructure in which vertical sections have gently lifted open. Is this edifice inviting entry, or does it exist to transmit knowledge? Is it a mental or spiritual gateway? Is this something closer to science fiction? Is it V’Ger, the lost twentieth-century space probe that ultimately gained consciousness in Robert Wise’s 1979 film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture?

Born in New York City to a Tibetan mother and American father who both practiced Buddhism, Weinreb was constantly saturated in visual culture (including advertising, television, and multimedia) until his time at Skidmore College, where he earned a degree in the mid-2000s. Currently living in Long Island City, New York, he insists his art is about possibilities. Minimalist, labor-intensive works such as Bow (2008), which engages viewers through a U-shaped series of repetitive, ultra-precise graphite, and silverpoint lines, connect him to Agnes Martin (1912–2004), who, starting in the 1950s, immersed herself in Taoism and Zen Buddhism as part of a quest to depict the inner mind. Martin asserted geometry “is a means of getting to a content in ourselves; a plane of attention and awareness, a plane of self-understanding.”2 In fact, Weinreb has repeatedly cited Martin as a kind of artistic parent, inspired by her line work and capacity to conjure the sublime in such paintings as The Peach (1964) and On a Clear Day (1973).3

In interviews, he has acknowledged the meditative motion of his drawing process as well as the use of mantras. Encaustic paintings such as Untitled (Oscillate) (2011), in which a group of bands appear to move rhythmically in a clean, infinite pattern above a mysterious center, recall the highly spiritually significant concentric mandalas used to create sacred space and induce trance in Tibetan Buddhism.

Allison Harding, the assistant curator at the Asian Art Museum, also argues that, like Martin, Weinreb’s works “draw you close, rather than possess some authoritative austerity.”4 However, unlike Martin, Weinreb is not confined to “repeated acts of self-imitation,” as the critic Rosalind Krauss argued in her 1982 essay, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde.”5 Instead, his protean art-making practice liberates him in a way Krauss did not imagine for artists obsessed with working with the grid and plane geometry. His work now includes glowing, computer-plotted, laser-cut multimedia light boxes and graphite paintings in which strata of encaustic hypnotically add depth and space, such as in the spiral wax painting Envelop (Current Sweeping) (2011).

Parallels are also evident in the graphite calibrations of Sol LeWitt, who Weinreb also named as a direct influence, or in the clean anchoring jet lines of Mark Grotjahn’s Dancing Black Butterflies series (2008). Similarities exist in contemporary visual culture as well, including inner visual realities. Darren Gilford’s production design for the Grid, the dangerous, multidimensional virtual landscape in the film Tron: Legacy (2010), is recalled in such graphite-on-paper works as Emitted Fracture (2008) and Untitled (Matrix) (2009), where the world of the computer is the content. Technology is a tool and an asset for Weinreb; he scans hand-drawn sketches into a computer and then plays out potential compositions “until the idea is resolved,” before returning to hand work.

Space and motion are also two of Weinreb’s interests, and he uses these as parameters to produce work that he describes as pure essence. Take Level Discharge (2006), a graphite drawing on paper depicting a vertical column in mid-explosion. Lines suggesting razor-thin steel break off and apart; viewers are confronted by a physics-defying multidimensional void. In Triad (2008), three cylindrical tubes or spheres converge and bow; the work seems to suggest the beauty and potential inherent in geometry or architectural vector graphics.

Agnes Martin said: “I paint with my back to the world.”6 Weinreb remains aware of societies overloaded with persuasive brand narratives and “facades presented as reality.” But working alone and quietly, he makes art associated with mystery and infinity. He encourages us to rethink the systems and structures we believe and trust in and instead consider alternate theories and paths.

Palden-Weinreb-Oscillate1

Untitled (Oscillate); 2011; graphite and encaustic on board; 24 x 24 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Rossi & Rossi, London.

 

 

The Visiting Artist Profile series is supported by the San Francisco branch of the Kadist Art Foundation. Kadist participates in the development of society through contemporary art by collecting and producing the work of artists and conducting various programs to promote their role as cultural agents. The foundation also supports the work of curators, academics, and magazines internationally through its residency program and by hosting public events on Wednesdays and a Saturday Reading Room at its space at 3295 20th Street in the Mission.

 

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NOTES:

1. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes by Palden Weinreb are from an interview with the author, May 2012.

2. Michael Auping, Abstraction, Geometry, Painting (Harry N. Abrams: 1989), 166.

3. “Palden Weinreb,” Queens International 2012: Three Points Make a Triangle, http://queensinternational.org/2012/index.php?/artists/palden-weinreb/.

4. From the author's email correspondence with Harding, May 2012.

5. Rosalind Krauss, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde,” in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds., Art in Theory, 1900–2000 (Blackwell Publishing: 2002), 1034.

6. Chuck Smith and Sono Kuwayama, “Agnes Martin Interview,” 1997, http://vimeo.com/7127385.

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