At The Same Time. From May 21 to July 28, 2016
The apparent and beguiling simplicity of Patricia Treib’s work can be matched only by its effortless versatility. For although this work is striking, it also creeps up on you. Indeed, unlike some immediately striking work, it does not wan, fade or shallow over time, but rather, the more you look at it, the more it deepens, broadens, and settles into its utterly cogent self. I’m not entirely sure how or why this happens (although I have hunch or two), but I can personally vouch for it, as I have been looking at this work for a few years now, and every time I see, it evolves toward a greater and more resonant complexity.
Lately, I have been thinking about how much this work seems to coincide, and diverge, from a classical Chinese landscape painting (I say diverge simply because it is not landscape painting). Appreciated as the highest form of picture making, the genre was governed by a number of principles as established in the 6th century by the writer, art historian and critic Hsieh Ho, two of which are particularly germane to Treib's work. One was “Bone Method,” which refers to brush technique as much as to the relationship of handwriting to personality. Apparently in the 6th century, the art of calligraphy had a very strong link to painting. The second principle is the idea of “Transmission by Copying” which privileged copying from models and works from antiquity. This is interesting in so far as Treib seems to abide, in her own special way, by both principles. Shifting between a handful of pictorial motifs which are also compositions, and which range from say a detail from a 15th century Russian icon painting to a still life featuring a 35mm camera, the artist depicts these motifs with a regularity that all but brackets questions of originality and even subject matter. Thus effectively copying from a model and “antiquity” (her antiquity), Treib’s approach to subject matter, if it can be called that, is closer to the “Bone Method.” For these paintings, which are the direct product of repetition, the way say, the legibility of handwriting depends on repetition, have a decidedly calligraphic character. Literally coinciding with the development of her own pictorial language, the writerly contours she portrays are at times evocative of a Semitic alphabet and at others, the stuff of pure gesture. Despite the repetitive, and even programmatic nature of the work, a strong sense of spontaneity is preserved, in that the application of her brush is always visible, fresh and indeed painterly. Curiously, although this work is anything but expressive, its soi-disant subject matter can be largely located in precisely how paint is applied, in the “personality” of the strokes, which, paradoxically, seek to eliminate personality through a mastery born precisely of repetition.
Seen as a whole, her pictorial motifs bring to mind a certain improbable, asymmetrical heraldry, but they also possess a decidedly confectionary quality. This has as much to do with how they are painted as it does with her palette. As the writer Jeff Frederick trenchantly observes of her work: “Treib's hues are muted, not strident, with pleasing harmonies, like the colors one might find in baked goods.” Applied on treated off-white or cream, nay crème anglaise grounds, her oil-based palette is known to wield chalky texture reminiscent of ceramics. Agreeably saccharine, her sensuous sense of color recalls the heterogeneity of bonbons and cake icing. It is a most palatable palette; its allure markedly edible. I see these paintings and I want to eat them. And yet the desire to consume they inspire in me is all but immediately counteracted by the serenity which internally governs them and which they gracefully and graciously radiate. This is a trait they poignantly share with the production of one of their dominant points of reference: Matisse. Like the voluptuous calm found in the maître’s work, it is anything but glib or facile. Given how finely balanced it is with desire, Treib’s tranquility, one suspects, is the specific by-product of a rigorous and committed discipline. Akin to any real and palpable peace, it is hard-won– which is precisely what renders it so palpable, edible, and captivating. And for all its being embedded in the history of painting, what Treib does is nevertheless a language wholly fashioned by and peculiar to her, a language I’m always happy to rediscover and relearn every time I see her work.
Patricia Treib was born in Saginaw, MI, and lives and works in Brooklyn. Solo exhibitions have been held at Kate MacGarry, London (2015), Wallspace, New York (2013), and Tibor de Nagy, New York (2012). Recent group exhibitions include The Clear and The Obscure, curated by Chris Sharp, Lulu, Mexico City, Mexico, and Nice Weather, curated by David Salle, Skarstedt, New York. Treib has had residencies at the Dora Maar House (2014), The MacDowell Colony (2013), and The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation’s Space Program (2007). Her work has been written about in ArtForum, The New Yorker, Art in America, and The New York Times.