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ON "VEILS", "CLOUDS" AND "STARDUST". . .
When David Prentice entered the New York Art world a second generation of abstract expressionists dominated the scene. Their florid, indulgent canvases were a known commodity for young artists and a move away from that approach was already afoot. The formalist principles they had hewn to were not lost on this next generation but required reinterpretation in a new context. The action oriented process and loud paintings of the earlier era had become academic and inexpressive of the new sensibility. The seminal stirrings of pop and minimalism were in the air and offered an engagement more intellectual and less romantic than their predecessors. Artists began to explore the extremes of new and exciting visions in search of a new voice. Prentice found his at the very borders of perception in a series of nearly white canvases. In their time these paintings were challenging and exciting. He had managed to eliminate composition, pattern, pictorial structure, rhythm, shape, texture and nearly every other device that image making had always relied upon, all without losing the presence that is unique to painting.
Unlike Reinhardt whose black canvases still employed subtle echoes of the rectangle through matte / gloss effects, or Ryman who activated the picture plane with texture or Irwin whose wide ranging explorations led him to installation and nearly theatrical effects; Prentice's modus operandi was to use the subtlest of colors grading to white thereby torquing the picture plane and making absence a positive presence. These were paintings that required slow study. They rewarded the viewer with an experience of hallucinogenic space and heightened awareness. They were sensational for an art world accustomed to work that had instant impact. But although they were shown in major galleries and even entered the collections of MoMA, Yale University, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Smithsonian, without a proper environment and lighting, they were difficult to see and were passed by. More graphic works, with iconic imagery that could be grasped in a moment were in vogue and subtlety was not. Finally, in 1973 Prentice abandoned that approach to explore other avenues and attitudes. He finally settled on landscape as a vehicle for his sense of elegant, meditative painting.
Shortly thereafter he met his wife Shinko, a native of Japan and a very modern woman with a keen business acumen. After their marriage they began a pattern of spending half of each year in Hokkaido, Japan and half in New York City. David's landscapes found an eager market in Japan where he was shown in the best galleries, given many solo shows and received numerous commissions.
Although still painting landscape, in recent years, he began to simultaneously revisit his earlier austere vision. But having learned from his previous forays, the new works were more visible and invested with a haunting poetry that he had always exhibited but the influence of Japan had deepened. His preoccupation with light became more symphonic rather than mono tonal. All the years of landscape painting could now inform the original vision with a new breadth.
Then his wife of over thirty years, died suddenly. A devastating blow followed by months of foundering and questioning his very motivation for living. But gradually, new works appeared; like evanescent glimpses into a space both replete with the formal considerations of classic painting and a spiritual presence open to all possibilities. Prentice managed to amalgamate his approaches into a cohesive unit where the confrontational purity of the old order is replaced with a cool, reductive approach. All the aspects which had been excised from the first white paintings reappeared. Elegant, serene and meditative, these new works embodied composition, structure, enhanced color, shape and relationship. Stripped of superfluous detail and reduced to the essence of abstract experience... they are like the hyper-ritualized gestures of the tea ceremony. In spite of their austerity, these are sensuous almost hedonistic paintings. The luxurious absence they manifest evokes spiritual states and produces a lyrical minimalism resonant with the great precepts of western art but unfettered by them. A lifetime's exploration of painting has produced a new body of work that celebrates rich possibility without sacrificing the economy and restraint that have become hallmarks of Prentice's involvement. These works are unencumbered by the dogmas of the past and the cynicism and irony of the current zeitgeist are nowhere to be seen.
In his first New York solo show in 23 years, Prentice exhibits profoundly distilled meditations, delicate yet forceful in their clarity. Color has become a more saturated field but retains paleness as though seen through atmosphere. Even the stability of the horizontal and vertical are thrust into question as diagonals appear signaling a spatial dynamism that was previously avoided. As objects they are beautifully crafted and resolved. These are not the paintings of a youthful ingenue but rather the mature reflections of an experienced, distilled sensibility.
To observe the evolution of an artist's work is to witness the growth of the spirit made manifest. Such is the opportunity that Prentice offers us... the transmutation of base impulse into the gold of consciousness.
All we must do is pay attention.
L.L. Powers, Curator of "Veils", "Clouds" and "Stardust", presented in 2016 at GR Gallery located in the Bowery neighborhood of New York City
There are 35 pieces available for purchase in "Veils, "Clouds" and "Stardust" painted between 2013-2016. The six paintings shown are a representation of the series as a whole. There are many sizes, colorways and price points for all inquiries.
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