Contemporary Art

This American Life: Four Contemporary Painters Exploring Landscape & Culture

By Sotheby's

T his season's Contemporary Art Online auction offers a fantastic array of works from the post-war period to the present. Below we highlight four works by contemporary American artists, all women, using their practice to create dialogues around themes of culture, identity and everyday life.

Amy Cutler

Brooklyn-based artist Amy Cutler is best known for her highly detailed, yet carefully ambiguous portrayals of people, mostly women, performing peculiar tasks and navigating bizarre situations. Rendered simply, though with exquisite detail, Cutler's style is reminiscent of European folk art. However, the narratives are often left unexplained and the white backgrounds of her drawings provide little context or clues to the meanings. The fantasy world she creates is sometimes humorous and other times ominous, but often inspired by Cutler’s rejection of traditional gender roles. In Bionic Contortion, the motif features a group of women sewing and hanging their laundry in a minimalistic forest landscape; a colourful fairy-tale with a deeper meaning.

Andrea Zittel

Over the last three decades, Joshua Tree-based artist Andrea Zittel has developed a highly unique practice encompassing themes of space, objects and modes of living in an ongoing investigation into what it means to exist and participate in our culture today. While nurturing a symbiosis of formal abstraction and function, Zittel explores questions of how to we live and what give life meaning, through an examination of social norms, values, hierarchies, as well as the creation of new systems and structures for living.

The present work is part of the artist’s celebrated ongoing series of Panels. Zittel has explained the meaning of this body of work “A panel is a flat section of a plane that can be assigned many different functions: a doormat, a tablecloth, a bath towel, a 4×8 sheet of plywood, or a piece of printer paper. A panel can support, cover, divide or serve as a visual object”. (Andrea Zittel cited in: Megan Heuer, ‘Reviews: Andrea Zittel at Andrea Rosen’, Art in America, 23 December 2012, online). Her panels are “elemental forms that have the ability to slip between functional categories and social roles depending on subtle contextual shifts or overlaying value systems” (Ibid).

Clare Rojas

Clare Rojas is a Columbus-born painter and musician who lives and works in San Francisco. Rojas is known for both her figurative paintings and her quilt-like works with flat geometric shapes of colour. Her works draw from a brilliant array of references, from West Coast modernism, Quaker art, Byzantine mosaics and Native American textiles, succinctly amalgamated in Rojas’ idiosyncratic personal narratives and abstractions. Rojas’ celebrated figurative paintings, such as Untiled, often explore fairy-tale landscapes with themes that range from the wisdom and mystique of female sages to the relationships between animals and humans. Works by Rojas’ are held in the collections of the San Jose Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Berkeley Art Museum, among others.

Whitney Bedford

Whitney Bedford aligns herself with the historical school of naval painting and has explained that she is “trying to update it, or even capsize it, in a way that only a hybrid of educations and living on the edge of the California coast can do” (Whitney Bedford cited in: Hugo Hess, Whitney Bedford, Widewalls, 2 February 2015, online). Bedford’s preferred technique is to draw a first fluid layer of marks and contours in ink. This first layer is then swiftly overlaid with an application of oil paint that smudges and sometimes erases the ink.

Starry Night acts as a superb example of this technique, where beautiful figurative seascapes are manipulated to the point of abstraction, showing only ghostly vestiges of her starting point. Bedford states “sometimes it is the paint itself that sinks the images. Other times, I push the paintings to reduce their images to abstract forms or landscapes that connote a different space, one aged by time and impossible to revisit”.

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