Irreverent and commanding, the present work arrests viewers, bathing them in the roar of its sultry flames. Guyton culls his blazing fire from a JPEG of flames scanned from the dust-jacket of a book he can no longer recall; treating this digitally scanned found image as a Duchampian readymade, Guyton prints the file on a monumental swath of primed canvas, folded in half to fit through the machine. Speaking about the significance of fire as a motif, Guyton explains: “Fire is always captivating. I thought of it as romantic, but camp. Destructive, but also generative. And of course hot. There’s a great interaction between the image and the material in the flame paintings, which I didn’t predict, in the way the ink drips and runs. The first time I printed the fire on linen was one of those brutally humid New York summer nights. No AC in the studio. I was sweating, and the paintings were melting.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wade Guyton OS, 2012, p. 204)
Guyton’s paintings candidly record the extraordinarily physical process of their own making. In the skids, smears and stuttering lines reverberating through the surface of Untitled, viewers can imagine Guyton wrangling the heavy linen through his EPSON Ultrachrome Inkjet—his stops and starts creating “a very fluid painterly surface.” (Achim Hochdörfer in conversation with the artist and Johanna Burton, Exh. Cat., Munich, Museum Brandhorst, Wade Guyton: Das New Yorker Atelier, 2017, p. 258) The seam horizontally bisecting the center reveals Guyton’s folding, drawing the viewer’s attention to the gestural flipping and re-feeding of the linen through the artist’s Epson twice in order for the image to span the whole width of the canvas. In terms particularly evocative of the present work, curator Scott Rothkopf describes Guyton’s Fire Paintings by stating that their “grandeur owes both to this motif and to Guyton’s constant negotiation between technical failure and mastery, physical accident and control...The image of the artist tugging at his paintings or helping them fold atop themselves as they reach the floor only to suffer some new smear or scar calls to mind a twenty-first century action painting potentially at odds with its mid-tech means.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wade Guyton OS, 2012, p. 25) Guyton’s painterly process, though indefatigably intertwined with the digital medium, evokes a heroic romanticism akin to the iconic photographs of Jackson Pollock dancing magisterially across his studio floor, captured by Hans Namuth for Life magazine in 1950.
Guyton, whose work is now held in esteemed collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, first moved to New York from a small town in Tennessee in 1996. While studying at Hunter College under the tutelage of the revered minimalist sculptor Robert Morris, the artist worked for seven years as a guard at the Dia Art Foundation in Chelsea, surrounded by the work of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Dan Graham, artists whose influence is substantially palpable in his oeuvre. Guyton’s paintings deftly combine the tenets of Minimalism with the aesthetics of Modernists like Frank Stella and Ad Reinhardt, while investigating contemporary means of mechanical reproduction akin to Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Guyton’s visionary peer Christopher Wool. While engaging with the innovative artistic strategies of the past century, Rothkopf explains that Guyton’s work specifically reflects the changes of its time: “[Guyton] matured at a time when images became radically easier to reproduce than ever before—and also radically more unstable, especially after they could be scanned from the world or grabbed from the Internet.” (Ibid., p. 26)
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